Sports Outside the Beltway

NFL Draft 2008 – Round 1 #24 – Tennessee Titans – RB Chris Johnson

NFL Draft 2008 Logo The Tennessee Titans quickly grabbed East Carolina running back Chris Johnson after trading down in the first. Rather high for this guy, methinks.

Scouts, Inc.: 41st

Strengths: Possesses elite speed. Is an explosive open-field runner. Brings excellent versatility to the table thanks to his experience at RB, WR and KOR. He can explode through a hole. Gets from 0-to-60 mph faster than most RB’s. Shows excellent burst to and through the hole, as well as the second-gear to run away from defenders in space. Vision and patience were much improved as a senior in 2007. He has a compact running style and will do a decent job of protecting his body. He displays very soft hands as a receiver and return specialist. Has great experience working out of the slot and knows how to separate as a route runner. Can pluck on the run and gets upfield in a hurry after the catch. Shows good vision and run instincts when he gets into space; knows when to cut back against the grain and how to set up blocks.

Weaknesses: Is undersized and must add more bulk to frame in order to hold up physically at the next level. Has better strength than frame indicates but still not strong enough to break lots of tackles or push the pile as an inside runner. Doesn’t always drive his legs and finish runs strong. Durability was a problem throughout college and most concerning is his history of neck injuries. Lacks ideal running instincts and got away with a lot at the college level because of his speed that he won’t get away with in the NFL. Will get overwhelmed at the point of attack versus bigger linebackers in pass pro. Will struggle to hold up in that facet of the NFL game. Ball security has been a problem at times, as he turned the ball over seven times on fumbles during his first three seasons. He also has small hands (7 ¼ inches).

Overall: Johnson became a starter as a true freshman and during his career at East Carolina served as a running back, wide receiver and kickoff return specialist. In his first three seasons (2004-’06), he played 34 games (23 starts) and ran for 1,559 yards and 15 touchdowns on 388 carries (4.0 average). In that span, he also had 88 receptions for 768 yards (8.7 average) and four touchdowns, plus 79 kickoff returns for 1,706 yards (21.6 average) and four touchdowns. Johnson broke out as a senior, starting all 13 games and leading the nation in all-purpose yards per game (227.7). He had 1,468 yards and 17 touchdowns on 236 carries (6.0 average), 37 receptions for 528 yards (14.3 average) and six scores, and 36 kickoff returns for 1,009 yards (28.0) and another TD. In 2006, Johnson had offseason neck surgery that forced him to miss spring drills but no playing time. He missed one game and was limited in others later that season because of a turf toe injury on his left big toe. Johnson shares a lot of similarities with Jerious Norwood, who was selected by the Falcons in the second round of the 2006 draft. Like Norwood, Johnson is a homerun threat with exceptional speed and versatility but marginal size and below-average strength. A team that can afford a luxury item like Johnson will be able to maximize his big-play potential as a runner, receiver and return specialist. However, we are not convinced he’s capable of handling a fulltime role at running back in the NFL, which is why we don’t grade him out as high as some. Regardless, Johnson is vying to become the first senior running back off the board. He projects as a second or third round pick.

Rick Gosselin: 41st


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