Drake Johnson, Wolverine

Drake Johnson, Wolverine

November 9, 2011
Drake Johnson (#2 in white) pulls away from a couple Bedford Mules
(image via Toledo Blade)

Ann Arbor (MI) Pioneer running back Drake Johnson committed to Michigan on Tuesday morning.  Johnson received the offer and accepted on the spot.  He selected the Wolverines over an offer from Eastern Michigan, the only other school to pursue him.

Johnson is a 6’1″, 200 lb. runner who concentrated on track for most of his high school career.  He didn’t attend football camps like most recruits, so he’s slightly under the radar.  However, it’s hard to remain under the radar with a season like he’s having – that’s what happens when you rush for 2,757 yards and 37 touchdowns in your senior year, and it’s not even finished yet.  
As for strengths, Johnson is extremely speedy.  He’s a national-caliber hurdler and placed 3rd in the state in the hurdles . . . when he was a freshman in high school.  Johnson never seems to get caught from behind, and the only time opponents gain on him is when he jogs into the endzone.  When 200 pounds of that kind of speed gets going in one direction, he could be a load to take to the ground.  Hurdlers typically have excellent leg strength and Johnson should be able to turn that into an ability to run through tackles, or at least gain a couple yards after contact.  He also flashes the ability to catch the football naturally.
Now for the weaknesses, and there are several.  First of all, Johnson too often turns his shoulders to make his cuts.  This is a significant concern for me, because backs who turn their shoulders lose their momentum and get taken to the ground easier than if they run behind their pads.  A kid who overpowers high school defensive backs with his size and speed might be okay (and, in fact, is quite good), but that strategy won’t be so effective in college, when the safeties get a little beefier.  Running with square shoulders is kind of an instinctive thing to do, and since he hasn’t learned that yet, it’s unclear if he ever will.  There are some plays that make me question his vision and instinctive running ability, because he runs into his blockers too often and fails to elude some defenders that an elite back probably should.  Sometimes he looks as if he can’t decide whether he’s going to be a speed back or a power back.  And to get a little nit-picky, Johnson frequently holds the ball in his right hand when going left, which can be corrected.  Even nit-pickier, he’s a duck-footed runner.  It’s not that I have anything against people who are duck-footed, but it’s rare to see elite athletes with that kind of gait.  LeBron James is duck-footed, too, so it’s not impossible to be successful, but examples are limited.
There aren’t any recent comparisons for Johnson at Michigan.  He’s a sprinter with size, which the Wolverines haven’t had since Tyrone Wheatley . . . and Johnson is no Wheatley.  I have a hard time expecting success at the next level for Johnson, whose lack of cutting ability would seem to be detrimental.  However, once Michigan makes the full transition to a power running offense, I think Johnson will become a more viable option at tailback.  With his current size and frame, it’s not hard to see him bulking up to 220-230 lbs.  If he can maintain his speed, Johnson could be a successful back behind what looks to be a powerful offensive line in the coming years.  He could also contribute as a kick returner with his straight line speed.
TTB Rating: 73 (explanation of ratings)


  1. Comments: 21383
    Nov 09, 2011 at 1:38 AM

    I dont understand the 73 rating that you gave Drake. The rating seems to contradict what you said in " I have a hard time expecting success at the next level for Johnson, whose lack of cutting ability would seem to be detrimental".

    According to your rating system, a 73 makes him comparable to Brandon Minor. Do you think he will be as successful as Minor?

  2. Comments: 21383
    Nov 09, 2011 at 3:54 AM

    @ Jeff 8:38 p.m.

    Minor was/is a fringe NFL prospect who got a chance to start at Michigan, but in part due to injuries, he never lit the world on fire. Success (to me) isn't starting a handful of games and ending up with ~500 yards rushing and then bouncing around on practice squads.

  3. Comments: 21383
    Painter Smurf
    Nov 09, 2011 at 4:02 AM

    Any chance he can play WR? I'm speculating that based on recent performance, UM may be losing interest from some of their WR prospects, or perhaps the 6th OL is looking less likely. Seems like an odd time to offer the kid. Surprised they did not wait another month. Could be that Fred Jackson went to bat for the guy, a la Rawls.

  4. Comments: 21383
    Nov 09, 2011 at 5:24 AM

    Fundamentals question: When you say you want a guy who doesn't turn his shoulders to cut, I understand that to mean that you want the line going through his shoulder pads to stay as parallel to the goal line as possible. But I'm having a hard time picturing what that means if he's, let's say, cutting back across the field like Toussaint did in his big Purdue run. Can you point to a specific runner (or a specific play!) that demonstrates the kind of technique you're talking about? It might also help to point to specific plays in the highlight reel above that you feel demonstrate a LACK of technique.

  5. Comments: 21383
    Nov 09, 2011 at 11:44 AM

    I'm prepared to accept instruction on this point, but I think the complaint having to do with the kids shoulders has to do with what turns first naturally, shoulders or hips.

    Hips is better.

  6. Comments: 21383
    Nov 09, 2011 at 12:52 PM

    @ Painter Smurf 11:02 p.m.

    I think there's a chance that Johnson could play WR, but it's somewhat unlikely. He looks like he'll fill out to be a Junior Hemingway body type (6'1", 225-ish lbs.), and that's not exactly typical for a WR. I think he'll be a tailback or perhaps turn into a fullback-type player, the kind who can run and catch rather than just lead block.

    Think Peyton Hillis when he was at Arkansas.

  7. Comments: 21383
    Nov 09, 2011 at 12:54 PM

    @ BML 12:24 a.m.

    I'll find some specific plays for you later. I can't do it now, for time constraint reasons.

    Turning your shoulders isn't necessarily a bad thing if you're in the open field and not taking contact. That's natural and somewhat necessary. The problem is when he's in traffic. Like I said, I'll point out specific plays later today when I get a chance.

  8. Comments: 21383
    Nov 09, 2011 at 2:01 PM

    Really interesting. Definitely has the pure "wheels" and you can see his hurdling ability. Question is if FJ can coach him into more of a college back and I have to trust his instincts. While different classes, it is interesting to compare his running against DeLasalle and the runs on Shallman's highlights against DLS. I think overall this is a justifiable "chance" worth taking.

  9. Comments: 21383
    Nov 09, 2011 at 3:22 PM

    Drake Johnson – 73. Is that some sort of typo? Do your ratings depend on your mood the day you give them? Because I am not seeing Drake Johnson contributing at U of M ever, and why we have taken him when we have so many other GOOD prospects looking at us is BEYOND me. I'd rate him a 49. I don't feel he's ever going to be an average, or below average, or any sort of starter.

    There are two reasons I think we could have taken Johnson.

    He has a teammate in the 2013 class we're looking at, and this might help our chances with him.

    Hoke and Co. want to speed up the recruiting process with everyone else, so they're sending out a message, "Spots are filling up fast, come and get em now."

    Below are a list of players you rated at or below 73 I like a lot more than Johnson.
    Ben Braden 65
    Ojemudia 67
    Wormley 73
    Jeremy Clark 49

  10. Comments: 21383
    Nov 09, 2011 at 3:35 PM

    @ Anonymous 10:22 a.m.

    No, it's not a typo. Frankly, players who stick around at Michigan through their senior years often contribute in some way. There are only rare occasions (probably one or two per class) of guys who played 4 or 5 years but didn't contribute in a significant way.

    Ratings can and will change before February, once senior film is available. I'm basing Johnson's evaluation on his senior film, not his junior or sophomore film. I can tell you that Clark and Braden will most likely see their ratings go up in the next few weeks. Wormley and Ojemudia will likely stay pretty stagnant. Likewise, I might change my mind on Johnson.

    Keep in mind that there's no heir apparent for when Johnson is an upperclassman. Dunn hasn't committed to Michigan, and most of the other running backs (Cox, Shaw, Toussaint, Smith) will be gone by the time Johnson is a junior. That leaves Rawls and Hayes, neither of whom I'm particularly impressed by. So there's an opportunity for playing time if Johnson plays out his career at Michigan, especially if he can turn into a potential homerun hitter.

  11. Comments: 21383
    Nov 09, 2011 at 4:03 PM

    Looks like a decent prospect from the film, but more as a north/south runner. I don't think he'll be a big play threat, despite his speed, but could be effective in the way that Anthony Thomas was. I was never much of a Thomas fan, but he hit the hole hard and ran fast. With a quality OL…

    I too was surprised by the 73 ranking after reading the evaluation.

    What I don't get is why you'd keep going after Dunn when you already have the kid from Utah and now Johnson.

  12. Comments: 21383
    Nov 09, 2011 at 4:15 PM

    @ Lankownia 11:03 a.m.

    Houma's going to be a fullback. As far as I know, Johnson is considered a tailback…although I can see him moving elsewhere.

    I think Johnson's recruitment might have something to do with expected attrition at the running back position.

  13. Comments: 21383
    Painter Smurf
    Nov 09, 2011 at 5:39 PM

    I don't get too caught up in your numerical recruit rankings, as the comments/evaluations are plenty interesting and stand on their own. But I would agree that this guy is below some of those guys listed by anonymous. Ojemudia in particular will play early and often under Mattison. If UM lands Dunn this year (he is supposedly still interested) or a stud RB next year, Drake is heading for a special teams career. His offer seems like more of a safety blanket for the coaches. Some of those other recruits were early, primary targets for the staff at their positions.

  14. Comments: 21383
    Nov 09, 2011 at 6:19 PM


    You're prob right on Houma, but he's not a prototypical FB. Sounds like he could be used as a ball-carrier too (I know, I know, they say that about pretty much every FB coming out of HS, still…)

    Hadn't heard about RB attrition, but I guess I can see the concern. Touss and Smith are the only proven commodities at RB. Smith will be a senior and Touss remains an injury concern. I'm still a little shocked that RBs aren't falling over themselves to come to Michigan. Real opportunity there.

  15. Comments: 21383
    Nov 09, 2011 at 6:24 PM

    @Painter Smurf

    I totally disagree with your assessment of Ojemudia. With Roh and Black, you have some proven DE talent returning. Plus Clark and Ryan look like quality edge rushers and are just freshman. Beyer may move to end after a year of eating and training. Other guys are red-shirting. Ojemudia will need to bulk up before he's serviceable. He's pretty low on my list of likely early contributors from this class.

    Tom Brady, Mike Hart, and Roy Roundtree were thought to be career backups too. Projecting these kind of things is even more futile than projecting if a guy will be a quality player or not.

  16. Comments: 21383
    Rob Pollard
    Nov 09, 2011 at 7:11 PM

    Sounds like a kick returner to me. Unless you are crazy elusive (e.g., Devin Hester, Desmond Howard) along with great speed, a good kick returner having top-flight speed is more than half the battle. You get one good block and boom, gone. That assumes you of course, catch the darn ball and then once that's done, are decisive (if nothing else) in your north-south running.

    Seeing a Stonum (who got hurt doing it, and thus won't be doing it his senior year) was our best returner in the last five years, I'm fine with this pickup. If he turns into a good RB, that's a bonus.

  17. Comments: 21383
    Nov 09, 2011 at 7:17 PM

    @ Painter Smurf 12:39 p.m.

    It should be noted that the TTB Ratings are sometimes dependent on who else is on the team and what class they're in. For example, if James Ross comes in and turns out to be a four-year starter, then that basically precludes Kaleb Ringer from being anything but a special teamer or backup. The fact that Rawls/Hayes haven't established themselves and that there are no other tailbacks in the 2012 class (yet) means Johnson is going to get a fair shot to be a primary ballcarrier as an upperclassman.

  18. Comments: 21383
    Nov 09, 2011 at 7:18 PM

    @ Lankownia 1:24 p.m.

    Agree on Ojemudia. He's got some physical talent, but he's not a kid that's going to earn significant playing time from Day 1, in my opinion.

  19. Comments: 21383
    Nov 09, 2011 at 7:20 PM

    @ Rob Pollard 2:11 p.m.

    Stonum got hurt doing kick returns? I don't remember that, but maybe my brain is just fried.

    Regardless, this coaching staff seems to like throwing non-starters out there to return kicks, such as Odoms and Gallon. I can't say I disagree with them, but assuming Stonum is a starter in 2012, I really doubt he'll be returning kicks.

  20. Comments: 21383
    Nov 09, 2011 at 8:52 PM

    About every other time I hear about Houma the fullback, I go and look at his vid and think again, "This kid's a tailback"

    I think our fullback is some big thick kid who we haven't even heard of yet who doesn't mind too much running into people with his face and is gonna come in here as a preferred walkon and earn a scholie decking people in practice.

    You know … your traditional Michigan fullback.

  21. Comments: 21383
    Nov 09, 2011 at 9:12 PM

    @ BML 12:24 a.m.

    Here are some clips from the above reel that show Johnson turning his shoulders:
    1:24, 2:18, 4:31, 8:14

    I think Fitzgerald Toussaint does an excellent job of keeping his shoulders square whenever possible. That's one of the reasons he always seems to gain at least another yard or two after contact.

  22. Comments: 21383
    Nov 10, 2011 at 1:50 AM


    Unless I'm mistaken, there has been word from the staff that Houma's a fullback. Remember, despite all the MANBALL talk at MGoBlog, Al Borges won't be replicating '90s Michigan football. His system works with a versatile fullback more in the Hopkins mold than Kevin Dudley.

  23. Comments: 21383
    Painter Smurf
    Nov 10, 2011 at 2:11 AM

    Boy, I guess I am alone on Ojemudia. Most good defensive defensive players do not redshirt these days even with good depth. DE's in particular seem to play early. I just see Ojemudia as having more natural pass rush and disengagement skills than some of the other edge rushers, and I think he has very deceptive strength. We'll see I guess. Been wrong before.

  24. Comments: 21383
    Nov 10, 2011 at 12:21 PM

    @ David

    Yup, I know.

    It's just that when I watch this kid go, I keep thinking they're gonna really enjoy handing him the ball, watching him cut with conviction, break tackles and then leave.

    Maybe this is just another example of why those guys are coaching and I'm blogging, but I think the kid's a tailback.

  25. Comments: 21383
    Nov 10, 2011 at 12:53 PM

    @ Roanman 7:21 a.m.

    I think Houma's going to be a decent fullback who can do a few things well, but I don't think he's going to be a GREAT runner. I am looking forward to having him on campus, though.

  26. Comments: 21383
    Nov 10, 2011 at 12:55 PM

    @ Painter Smurf 9:11 p.m.

    Ojemudia's surely going to play at some point in his career, but you have to realize that we're pretty stacked at DE/OLB. Three freshmen are playing this year (Beyer, Clark, Ryan), and then there are guys like Cam Gordon, Jibreel Black, and Craig Roh who will be more experienced. That's six guys with experience at SAM and WDE, his two potential positions. It's not going to be easy to shoehorn somebody else into playing time, although I'm not saying it's impossible.

  27. Comments: 21383
    Nov 10, 2011 at 1:28 PM


    Since I'm already busy this morning moving kids around the field, I have a friend who is exactly as qualified as I am to make personnel calls at the college level but who has no kids and is subsequently able to catch a couple high school games most weekends and makes it a point to see those games featuring the D1 prospects.

    He keeps telling me that Ojemudia is going to grow up to be someone's Tampa Two type middle linebacker.

    Have you ever seen video of this kid dropping into coverage?

  28. Comments: 21383
    Nov 10, 2011 at 4:49 PM

    @ Roanman 8:28 a.m.

    I don't recall seeing any film of Ojemudia dropping into coverage. Players rarely move back from line to linebacker or from linebacker to safety, so I doubt Ojemudia will be a Tampa Two MLB type.

  29. Comments: 21383
    Nov 10, 2011 at 5:16 PM

    Yeah, me neither.

    Fun to think about though.

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