Name: Drake Johnson
Weight: 201 lbs.
High school: Ann Arbor (MI) Pioneer
Position: Running back
Class: Fifth year senior
Jersey number: #20
Last year: I ranked Johnson #50 and said he would be a backup running back (LINK). He had 54 carries for 271 yards (5.0 yards/carry) and 4 touchdowns, along with 6 catches for 96 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Johnson has had a tough career so far, and you have to admire his mental fortitude. He tore his ACL after just 2 rushing attempts as a redshirt freshman. Then he suffered another ACL tear in the final game of 2014. This summer he was run over by a forklift while stretching at the indoor track facility. If Michigan and/or Johnson gets a national stage, you can imagine ESPN or a 30-for-30 making a big deal about these things. In between all those things, he has been a pretty good running back. After sitting out the opener last season while coming back from that second ACL tear, Johnson became more and more of an integral part of Michigan’s offense. He reached a season-high in carries and yardage against Maryland with 13 and 68, respectively, and added on a 31-yard touchdown catch-and-run. His usage after that was a bit odd. Perhaps it was coincidental, but against the top teams on the schedule, Johnson – the #2 back – would almost disappear at times. He didn’t play against #17 Utah, had 2 carries against #23 Northwestern, didn’t touch the ball against MSU or PSU, and notched just 2 touches (1 carry, 1 catch) against Ohio State. In those games against tough defensive fronts, the carries tended to go to starter De’Veon Smith (for obvious reasons) and combo fullback/tailback Sione Houma (13 carries, 64 yards, 3 TD’s in those games). Johnson did cap his season with an impressive game against Florida (6 carries for 58 yards, along with 2 catches for 10 yards, 2 total TD’s), but that was a 41-7 blowout win over a team that didn’t care.
I don’t know what to expect from Johnson this season. On the one hand, he was mostly productive when called upon. On the other hand, Jim Harbaugh and Co. didn’t want him out there much at crunch time. Without Sione Houma to suck up some of those carries, it will be interesting to see whether Johnson gets more opportunities, or if the coaching staff tries to involve Ty Isaac or the younger backs. Either way, we’ve seen that Michigan can do well without major contributions from Isaac, but we haven’t really seen that without Johnson. For being 6’1″, he’s pretty thin at 201 lbs. He’s not a great blocker or between-the-tackles runner, but he can catch screens and work off-tackle. He forms a nice complement to Smith’s bruising running style, so I expect Johnson to play quite a bit. Smith gives and takes a beating, so if he hurts an ankle or a shoulder, will it be Johnson or someone else who steps in to take the bulk of the touches?
Prediction: Backup running back; 60 carries for 300 yards and 5 touchdowns; 10 catches for 120 yards and 2 touchdowns