The Atlanta Falcons need an ideal fit for the zone-blocking scheme to team with Devonta Freeman in 2015. Duke Johnson is one of the best fits for the scheme in the entire draft. He’s got good top-end speed and was ridiculously productive under the scheme in college.
Johnson is a unique running back in that he was able to amass over 4,200 all-purpose yards over his three collegiate seasons despite getting just 595 touches per season. That’s an average season of 198 touches for over 1,400 yards of production. If he does that in the pros, he’ll be a great committee back.
University of Miami
Combine/Pro Day Measurements
Height: 5'9-1/8" Weight: 207 pounds
Arm Length: 30-3/8" Hand Measurement: 9-¼"
40 yard dash: 4.50 sec. 10 yard split: 1.59 sec.
20 yard shuttle: 4.16 sec. 3-cone Drill: 6.88 sec. Bench Reps: 18 reps
Vertical Jump: 33.5" Broad Jump: 10'1"
2014: 13 Games Played, 242 Carries, 1,652 Yards, 10 Touchdowns, 38 Catches, 421 Yards, 10 Touchdowns
2013: 8 Games Played, 145 Carries, 920 Yards, 6 Touchdowns, 4 Catches, 77 Yards, 14 Kick Returns, 396 Yards
2012: 12 Games Played, 139 Carries, 947 Yards, 10 Touchdowns, 27 Catches, 221 Yards, 1 Touchdown, 1-of-2 Passing (50.0 Percent), 8 Yards, 1 Touchdown, 27 Kick Returns, 892 Yards, 2 Touchdowns
Duke Johnson has great athleticism and some solid breakaway speed. As a former long jumper and sprinter, he just knows how to run properly and accelerates better than any back. Because of this, he’s got a ton of ability to be effective as a kick returner.
He fights for every yard and shows a scrappiness that the best smaller backs are able to demonstrate. He also has great ability to cut when he has space. On outside runs, he makes teams pay if they don’t respect this. He’s also an extremely effective receiver out of the backfield and on wheel and angle routes.
As good as Duke is running the ball, he doesn’t have much agility to work off. He’s not a great inside rusher because his lateral cuts while rushing inside aren’t effective. He’s also extremely easy to bring down. Smaller safeties don’t seem to have a problem upending him.
At times, he doesn’t concentrate on keeping the ball tight to his body, which leaves him open to fumble the ball more often than some. He’s also completely ineffective as a pass-blocker at this stage in the game. If he can learn to chip and then go out for a short flat-route, he’ll be serviceable here.
How does he fit the Comrade Filter?
Johnson grew up in hardship, but he didn’t bring it with him throughout his career. He was never arrested nor was he suspended from the Miami program for any period of time. His mother is a corrections officer, and his father died when he was in his teens according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
He’s seemingly used his tougher than normal upbringing to be his motivation, and he is a class act off the field much like Warrick Dunn was. He’s a charitable, lead by example personality and would be an asset for the Falcons locker room for a long time.
Johnson is a comparable running back to Maurice Jones-Drew and could be a back who carries the load in a similar manner. His ideal fit will be a role where he can carry the ball around 225-250 times a year, while he catches it another 35-40 times out of the backfield.
His versatility and team-oriented attitude will make him a high-round draft pick. The only real question is how high he can go. He did suffer an ankle injury during his sophomore year, but he looks to be completely recovered from it at this point in time.
How he would fit into the Falcons’ plans
If the Falcons can get Johnson in the third or fourth round, he would be an excellent complement to Freeman. Johnson has the ability to be a great first- and second-down back who would take the bulk of the carries and catches on early downs.
Johnson still wouldn’t solve the question of a power back for short-yardage and goal-line situations, but he would at least have the ability to give Atlanta another option to try out there. Either way, if Johnson made it to the Falcons in the third round or later, he would be a great pick and good fit for the team.
All stats used are from Pro Football Focus’ Premium Stats, ESPN.com, CFBStats or NFL.com. All combine and pro day info is courtesy of NFLDraftScout.com. All contract information is courtesy of Spotrac.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, college football, the NFL and the NFL draft. He’s also a Draft Analyst for Pro Football Spot.
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