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Redskins Draft Countdown: Northern Iowa RB David Johnson

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Redskins Draft Countdown: Northern Iowa RB David Johnson

The NFL Draft is just over weeks away and I’ll continue researching the prospects throughout the lead-up to the draft. Along the way I’ll be sharing some of what I find out with Real Redskins readers. The focus will be on players in areas of need for the Redskins but I might look at players at just about any position since Scot McCloughan has said that he will take the best player available regardless of need.

David Johnson
Running back
Northern Iowa

What they’re saying:
What I liked:  Johnson is a big strong man who is tough to get down and a guy who runs well inside his scheme.  He is sturdy and a real workhouse who can do a lot of things well for you.  He can easily pass protect with his size and his receiving ability is absolutely top shelf.  He has great hands and is able to catch and run in an instant.  He also can stop on a dime and has some real jump cuts that are nice.  His 40-time at the combine was 4.5, which is more than fast enough at RB, and even more impressive, his 10-yard split of 1.58 was about as quick as you will see.

What I did not like:  The hardest part of looking at a runner at this level is trying to figure out what sort of level of competition he is working with and against.  He trucks a few linebackers in these games, but they do not appear to be of NFL quality by any stretch.  His quickness and explosiveness in-games does not reflect his amazing times.  There are stretches where he just doesn’t look like he has any turbo at all in his game.
Bob Sturum, Dallas Morning News

How he fits the Redskins: The Redskins are looking for a third-down back and Johnson could be the best option for that job in the draft. Johnson, who some colleges talked to about being a wide receiver when recruiting him, caught at least 30 passes in all four of his seasons at Northern Iowa, a total of 141 receptions for an average of 12.3 yards and 14 touchdowns. No other running back prospect in this year’s draft has more than one season with 30 catches on his resume.

Johnson is more than just a scatback making a living on swing passes. He has good size (6-1, 224), speed (4.5 in the 40 including an impressive 10-yard split of 1.58), and athleticism (see the combine “spider web” from Mockdraftable.com above). Over the course of his career Johnson rushed for 4,682 yards including 1,553 last year.

Another factor going in Johnson’s favor is his kick return ability. He didn’t do it full time in college but last year he had 12 returns for an impressive 36.5-yard average with a touchdown. In the Senior Bowl he returned three kickoffs for a 27.3-yard average.

Potential issues: The biggest negative on Johnson’s ledger is where he played and whom he played against. Northern Iowa is in the FCS division (formerly known as 1-AA). When he breaks a tackle or turns on the jets and outruns a defender, you have to wonder what might have happened if the Panthers had been playing Ohio State or USC.

Bottom line: What the Redskins need to ponder here is similar to what I wrote about previously regarding Alabama’s T. J. Yeldon. If the Redskins are going to spend a top 100 selection on a running back—both Johnson and Yeldon are projected to be third-round picks—do they need to be fairly confident that the back they take can carry the load in case Alfred Morris in injured or if he leaves in free agency a year from now. A third-round pick does not necessarily have to be a starter but you want him to develop into more than just a situational player.

Johnson’s kick-return ability could help nudge his value up even if Scot McCloughan has some doubts about him being a workhorse back. But it will still come down to projecting how he can perform taking the big jump from FCS to the NFL. That will be the biggest challenge for McCloughan and the rest of the GM’s evaluating Johnson.

In his own words

Johnson on his pass catching ability:
Oh yeah, that’s something I work on a lot. One-on-one routes we would do every day in practice. After practice, I always tried to work on my routes with the receivers . . . In high school, I actually was a running back and wide receiver. Coming out of high school, because of my height and I was only about 180-190, a lot of colleges were talking to me about playing receiver. Going into college, all I was working on was receiving. My college actually recruited me as an athlete to play receiver. I played receiver for the first week of camp. That’s where it came from, training for that.
Previously in Draft Countdown:

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The seven best undrafted free agent signings the Redskins have made since 2010

The seven best undrafted free agent signings the Redskins have made since 2010

Every NFL training camp is different, but there are a few consistent things you can count on happening at each one each year.

At some point, for example, a star will say that he's "just excited to hit a guy wearing a different colored jersey" after about a week of practicing against his teammates. Also on the list: a coach will tell reporters that his defense plans on being more aggressive and hopes to create more turnovers in the regular season.

One of the more pleasant camp traditions, meanwhile, is that undrafted rookie who goes from stand-in to stand out and makes the team by impressing in drills and preseason contests.

But while there will be plenty of time in the coming weeks for trying to figure out who'll do that for the Redskins in 2017, let's instead look back at a handful of the players who've already accomplished that in the past with Washington. Here are the seven best undrafted free agents the franchise has unearthed since 2010.

MORE: PLAYING OVER/UNDER WITH KEY STATS FOR KIRK COUSINS IN 2017

Logan Paulsen (2010)

No one will ever mistake Logan Paulsen's film for Rob Gronkowski's, but the former UCLA Bruin held down the third tight end spot for the Redskins from 2010-2014.

His two best years came in 2012 and 2013, where he posted 25 and 28 catches respectively, scored four total times and was on the receiving end of this magical fourth-down pass from Robert Griffin III against the Giants, a play that might've just been the peak of Griffin's rookie year. Now 30, Paulsen is reuniting with Kyle Shanahan out in San Francisco, continuing to exceed expectations and extending what's been a fruitful NFL career.

Will Compton (2013)

Will Compton's made a steady climb up Washington's roster since entering the league as a free agent linebacker out of Nebraska.

He was cut in his first season back in 2013 but latched onto the practice squad. He eventually debuted near the end of 2013, though, and made the 53-man squad the next go-round. 2015 was when he first started playing regularly, then last year he started 15 contests while also serving as a captain.

In 2017, he'll have to compete with Zach Brown and Mason Foster for a starting gig, but he figures to play plenty no matter the outcome and he's one of Jay Gruden's most trusted defenders. Not bad for a guy who has admitted he "wasn't confident" as a rookie:

Houston Bates (2015)

Special teams often is the avenue a college free agent has to take to make a roster, and Houston Bates is an example of one who's been there, done that. He's appeared in 24 games for the Redskins in his first two NFL campaigns and will look to recover from a torn ACL he suffered last December so he can add to that total in year three.

Before that injury, he was Washington's most active special teams player with 292 snaps in 14 contests.

Quinton Dunbar (2015)

Quinton Dunbar has not only overcome being an undrafted free agent; the former Florida Gator has also made the successful transition from wide receiver to cornerback, too.

Like his classmate Bates, Dunbar has participated often in 2015 and 2016, and like Paulsen, his biggest moments have come against the Giants. As a first-year pro, he picked off Eli Manning in the end zone to the delight of a raucous FedExField crowd, and as a sophomore, he helped complete a risky fake punt and also notched another (absolutely insane) INT in New York:

Rob Kelley (2016)

This offseason, Jay Gruden joked that Rob Kelley has worked his way up from "ninth-string" to starter. He laughed as he said it, but it may not have been that big of an exaggeration.

Kelley never rushed for more than 420 yards at Tulane, but he ripped off 704 last year for the 'Skins. Now he's the top option in a talented backfield, and while Samaje Perine and Chris Thompson are nipping at his heels for carries, Gruden has repeatedly said how much he loves Kelley. He'll be fed plenty in 2017.

Anthony Lanier (2016)

Anthony Lanier's on this list not for what he's done, but for what he's projected to do. Gruden uses not one but two really's to describe how excited he is about Lanier, and a couple of months of working with assistant Jim Tomsula might be all the lineman needs to make the jump from a project to a problem. 

Maurice Harris (2016)

Last on the list is a receiver who displayed sure hands and a knack for converting third downs in limited action last year. Maurice Harris now looks like he'll be an early option off the bench in Gruden's offense and should see the field far more often than he did in the second half of 2016.

You may not be fully sold on Harris, but it sounds like his teammates are, so don't be surprised if he breaks out and develops into another option for Kirk Cousins:

RELATED: RANKING THE REDSKINS ROSTER FROM BOTTOM TO TOP

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Need to Know: Redskins by the numbers—First-down rushing, forcing fumbles

Need to Know: Redskins by the numbers—First-down rushing, forcing fumbles

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, July 23, four days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond on July 27.

Timeline

The Redskins last played a game 203 days ago; they will open the 2017 season against the Eagles at FedEx Field in 49 days.

Days until:

—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 18
—Preseason vs. Packers at FedEx Field (8/19) 27
—Roster cut to 53 (9/2) 41

The Redskins by the numbers

5.01—The average yards per carry against the Redskins on first down last year.

I have noted this before but I took a closer look and it’s even worse. In 2016, four running backs—Isaiah Crowell of the Browns, DeAngelo Williams of the Steelers, Jordan Howard of the Bears, and Ezekiel Elliott of the Cowboys—gained over 100 yards against Washington on first down alone. It took Elliott two games to get there but the other three made it in one. If the Redskins don’t get this fixed (this is the second year in a row they have been last in the league here) their defense won’t get much better.

3.85—The Redskins average offensive gain per carry on first down.

This is not a very good performance here — the average is 20th in the NFL. But it does represent a significant improvement from 2015, when they were last in the NFL at 3.3 yards per carry. One difference was negative plays. Two years ago, they had 63 first-down plays go for no gain or a loss of yards. Last year they had 48 such plays. Rob Kelley, who was fourth-best in the league as a rookie last year at gaining yardage after being contacted behind the line, can claim a lot of credit.

8—The number of opponents’ fumbles the Redskins recovered this year.

A total of 17 other teams recovered more fumbles than the Redskins did last year and their recoveries were exactly half of what they were in 2015, when they had 16, the most in the league. It wasn’t surprising that their recoveries fell. The numbers crunchers say that fumble recoveries aren’t “sticky,” meaning that there tends to be a lot of variance for each team each year. And that makes sense as a lot of recovering fumbles is the bounce of the ball.

But it should be noted that the Redskins forced just 22 fumbles last year after forcing 36 in 2015. You have to get the ball on the ground to recover it and the Redskins could do a better job of forcing fumbles in 2017

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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