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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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'I'm letting all hell break loose' – Josh Norman belittles Dez Bryant and Odell Beckham Jr.

'I'm letting all hell break loose' – Josh Norman belittles Dez Bryant and Odell Beckham Jr.

NFC East opponents don't challenge Josh Norman. Dez Bryant and Odell Beckham, Jr. are fake tough, no real threat to him. Not like some other receivers in the NFL. 

At least that's how the Redskins corner described them in a wide-ranging interview with Bleacher Report published on Thursday. 

The gist? The Cowboys and Giants stars get no respect from Norman, though both were involved in memorable feuds with him the past year. 

Norman got his first opportunity to talk trash when asked to do word association with the name "Dez Bryant." He took the opening and returned it for a touchdown. 

"That's a guy. Just a guy. Dez was Dez in 2012, '13, '14. Maybe '14. Now? He's a guy," Norman said.

"He doesn't 'wow' you. For me, he don't. For other guys, he probably will do the worst to them because he'll bully them. But you can't bully a bully. You know what I'm saying? That's why his game doesn't resonate to me."

To jog your memory, Norman and Bryant went at it after the Cowboys beat the Redskins on Thanksgiving last year. Bryant said Washington should get a refund on Norman's contract. There was also drama about whether Norman falsely accused Bryant of threatening to "unload the clip" on him.

Real mature, substantive conflict. 

RELATED: Redskins’ Norman confident that changes will improve defense

The Redskins corner didn't go any easier on Beckham, who of all receivers in the league has had the most explosive run-ins with Norman. 

In fact, Beckham's helmet-to-helmet hit on Norman in a 2015 contest between the Giants and Panthers led the NFL to change rules for ejections. Beckham had racked up three unnecessary roughness penalties in that game. 

"[Beckham] tries to be a tough guy. He tries to put on this persona which he's not. Because he's always going to have his head on a swivel. Always. Always when we play each other," Norman said, suggesting that he's able to push OBJ over the edge and out of control. 

"He's scary like that. He does things that he normally wouldn't do because of all the pressure and added hype that he has to put on his whole persona. He's not this guy. If you go back and watch the games in which we play compared to the games we don't play each other, he's a totally different guy."

"When people get physical, tough, like the Minnesota game, he acts out. He's a kid. He's a big kid, man," Norman concluded.

It must have been an exercise in restraint not to mention OBJ's kicking-net tantrum after losing to the Redskins last year. 

As the interview moved on, there wasn't a receiver that drew respect from Norman until the name Julio Jones came up. Norman got to see the Falcons receiver twice a year when he played for Carolina in the NFC South. 

"Now, that is the ultimate challenge. That's when I can do things in a split-second, a millisecond, just choo-choo-choo," Norman said of facing Jones. He said he's missed that challenge since moving to the NFC East. 

"It's the worst. Because I'm just battling 'guys.' I'm not battling against something I can call 'greatness.' I'm not enhancing my craft. Don't get me wrong. They're tough. But they're not [Jones]," he said. He also named Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown and Chicago's Alshon Jeffrey as other receivers who could provide a real test. 

But whether those matchups excite Norman or not, he knows they can't touch the hype of NFC East showdowns, especially ones involving Beckham. 

"That game gets so hyped up by the time we play them, it won't even be Giants vs. Washington—it'll be me and him. ... Because now you have us on Thanksgiving Night. C'mon, man!"

The interview ended with Norman looking forward to playing with new Redskins safety DJ Swearinger, who has a reputation as a hard-hitting intimidator.

"Trust me when I tell you, it's going to be bad blood this year. You think the NFC East didn't like each other before? This year right here? There's going to be a lot of fines and maybe some suspensions. I'm going to be honest with you: This s--- is going to get really ugly. Because I do have a safety that don't give a f--- and I definitely don't. And I know they don't have that many people on the offense who do on their side."

"I'm letting all hell break loose."

MORE REDSKINS: Josh Doctson ready to show the NFL, "I'm good at what I do"

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Redskins WR Josh Doctson is ready to show the NFL, "I'm good at what I do"

Redskins WR Josh Doctson is ready to show the NFL, "I'm good at what I do"

An Achilles injury robbed Josh Doctson of the bulk of his rookie season with the Redskins. After a strenuous offseason spent rehabbing and a clean bill of health, Doctson is ready to fight back.

"It feels good to be back out here with them and to be playing football again," Doctson said Wednesday at Redskins OTAs (full video above). "It's what I’ve been doing for a long time, it's why I’m here. I'm good at what I do."

Sure it's May and there was no contact, but Doctson showed how good he can look on Wednesday. He caught a number of balls throughout the two hour session and looked smooth in his routes. The second-year pro from TCU makes cuts while maintaining speed and balance, and the skills allowed him to get open a number of times to haul in passes using soft hands.

"Right now, so far, so good," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said. "I like the way he looks, like the way he runs and love the way he catches."

Late in the OTA session, Colt McCoy found Doctson for a deep touchdown. While the sidelines erupted, Doctson just calmly jogged back to the line of scrimmage and talked with coaches. 

Doctson explained that to "show my teammates, coaches and myself again that I can play with these guys, play at this level, it feels real good."

The Redskins will need the 6-foot-2, 202 lbs. Doctson this fall. With the exit of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon, more than 40 percent of Kirk Cousins' passing yards left the Washington offense. Free agent addition Terrelle Pryor will be expected to pick up a large chunk of that yardage, but Doctson will need to offset that loss as well.

"He’s been impressive. I think the big thing for him is the confidence in his Achilles and I think he’s got that right now. I saw him out there today and yesterday, the last two days he’s looked better and better. It looks like he can run down the field," Gruden said.

Doctson described the pain in his Achilles as "pretty much non-existent now."

Never a good place to look for nuanced analysis, last season some social media speculation suggested Doctson was homesick dealing with his injury. That theory seems foolish, as the receiver spent the entire offseason in Ashburn, working out and rehabbing.

"I'm feeling good. I'm feeling healthy," he said. "I got after it every day. It’s a tribute to my hard work why I'm feeling so feeling healthy."

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