MOORE: Eyeing RB Johnson as draft nears

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David Moore

David Moore has been the senior football writer for FOX Sports since Aug. 2005. He appears weekly on the FSN Baseball Report and MLB on FOX. One more line lorem ipsum dolor sit amet e pluribus unum.

holds his school's season-single rushing record. He is one of only nine players in Division I-A history to run for more than 2,000 yards in a season. Yet, any discussion of Johnson leading up to this month's draft seems to focus on what he can't do, the teams he did — or didn't — do it against and the failure rate of the backs who stumbled before him. Excuse Johnson if he has a chip on his shoulder pads. "I will have a chip on my shoulder no matter where I'm drafted, if I'm the third player taken or the last," Johnson said. "There are always people out there who are saying you can't do this, or the reason you were drafted there is because you're not as fast or you can't get outside. These are usually people who don't know football and the person you are. "They don't know you as someone who wants to be the best." Johnson isn't the best running back in this draft. That distinction belongs to Miami's . But unlike McGahee, he has two good knees. He's a solid, durable runner with soft hands who can catch the ball out of the backfield. And when the first round of the draft is completed, Johnson is likely to be the only running back selected. Personnel directors will tell you this is the second consecutive down year at the position. Only two backs — Cleveland's (No. 16) and Atlanta's (No. 18) went in the first round last year. Early projections had Johnson going even later, possibly in the mid-20s. That could still happen. But Johnson stated his case to be taken higher with an impressive workout for NFL scouts on March 20. The 6-foot-1 back weighed in at 221 pounds, seven pounds less than his weight at the scouting combine one month earlier. He had a 41-inch vertical jump and was clocked between 4.41 and 4.45 in the 40. This isn't blazing speed. But when combined with his other qualities — patient, good vision, hard to bring down — it's fast enough to secure his spot as the first back taken. The league is full of quality backs that didn't have the speed to be taken among the first 15 picks in the draft. One that comes to mind is Arizona's , the leading rusher in NFL history. "Everybody thinks they can come in and be a premier back, a franchise back," Johnson said. "It all depends on the organization and how they view a certain player. "Of course, we're not going to come in and be a (Baltimore) or (Tennessee), but we can have that type of potential." It's interesting that Johnson mentioned George. Johnson is more power than speed, a between-the-tackles force that picks up a lot of his yards after contact. He's not elusive but does cut back well. Like George. "They kind of compare me to ," Johnson said. "We're both tall and lanky and our strides are very long." Johnson rushed for 2,087 yards and 20 touchdowns in his senior season at . But in losses to , Michigan and Iowa he rushed for less than 80 yards in each game. The fact he was unable to maintain his average against the better teams is something NFL clubs will analyze. It's a criticism Johnson knows he can't escape. His response: he won't sit there and argue and , teams he rolled up big yardage against, were power houses in the Big 10. He has to go with the hand — or 10 hands — he was dealt. "I'm not the only one out there," Johnson said. "I love my offensive line. They are great guys. But only one of them was invited to the combine. You look at other universities and they had two or three linemen. "I had to work with what I was given." Attitude and heart. Those are two things Johnson believes he's been given that help to set him apart. Heart is an intangible and difficult to document. But attitude ... Two years ago, after the Nittany lost their first two games to open the season, Johnson criticized the offense as "too predictable." He said opponents could study an eight-year old game tape and know what the team would do offensively. The player's father, Sr., is the defensive line coach for and recommended a one-game suspension. Head coach Joe Paterno chose not to discipline the sophomore. Why did Johnson speak out? "I'm a competitor," he said. "I want to win and want to be placed in a position to win." Johnson must also fight the perception that running backs don't cut it on the professional level. Actually, that's not a perception. It's a reality. Ki-Jana Carter. Curtis Enis. Blair Thomas. D.J. Dozier. There are different reasons why each failed to make an impact in the NFL. But the bottom line is they all failed. That doesn't mean Johnson will follow in their footsteps. He points out that he didn't take the pounding those backs did in college since he only assumed the lead back role in his senior season. But it does give some personnel directors pause. "I don't blame people for that," Johnson said. "It seems to happen that way. I think it's like the Heisman, where a lot of players have gone on and not really done well in the NFL. "It's something I have to break and outlive." Senior writer covers the NFL for and can be reached at his e-mail address:
Tagged: Falcons, Browns, Titans, Ravens, Cardinals, Jamal Lewis, Miami (FL), Iowa, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State, Indiana, T.J. Duckett, William Green

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