Overshadowed by Bijan Robinson in rookie drafts this year, Roschon Johnson enters the 2023 NFL Draft as a highly-underappreciated prospect. With RB-needy teams looking to the Texas backfield for talent, they should dedicate more time to the backup in that offense.
Johnson is no generational prospect, nor is he a consensus anything. But what Johnson does bring to the table are traits that can turn him into a starting running back down the road, especially if drafted into the right situation.
- College: University of Texas
- Height: 6’2″
- Weight: 222 lbs.
- Age: 22 (01/31/01)
- Year: Senior
- Draft Projection: Day 2 Pick
Typically when a running back of Johnson’s size enters the draft, a ‘knock’ on his running style is that he can be too much of a north-south runner who seeks out contact and tries to run people over. But Johnson is an exception – his size is aided by his vision and willingness to hit the hole.
Playing in an offense like Texas, where opponents were forced to do their best to stop Robinson, certainly benefited Johnson. With Steven Sarkisian having a hand in the offense, their outside zone running style helped prepare Johnson for that jump.
While an outside zone scheme relies on blocking assignments that fill space instead of attacking players, few running plays make it outside. With the main focus being to force the defense to move laterally and not upfield, players like Johnson need to have good vision to follow linemen downfield and make cuts as the gaps pop up.
🚀Roschon Johnson might be towards the bottom of the college productivity metrics, but he ranked 1st in BT+MT/Att per @football_sis.— Corbin (@corbin_young21) February 19, 2023
🔥His teammate Bijan Robinson ranked 4th in BT+MT/Att.
📈Amongst RBs with 50 carries, Johnson ranks 1st in PE Per Play, with Robinson at 3rd. pic.twitter.com/KTv0l4d9z6
Picturing a 220+ lb. running back that isn’t top-heavy is tough, but Johnson’s track record for sticking his foot in the ground, maintaining balance through contact, and filling open holes in the trenches is impressive.
While his running style leaves him susceptible to low-body tackles, Johnson can fight through attempted tackles and keep his legs driving. NFL teams will be interested in these traits of a running back prospect, especially a prospect who finishes through contact and doesn’t shy away from it.
Doing the Dirty Work
Johnson has consistently shown that he is more than willing to get familiar with blitzers and do his job. His ability to diagnose a blitz and handle a blitzer with good technique makes him stand out from other backs.
Texas RB room was such an embarrassment of riches. Roschon Johnson is 3rd down approved. 30 for Ok St is a who had 10.5 sacks in ‘21. this is the good stuff. pic.twitter.com/vwDf5nCbUi— Mike Golic Jr (@mikegolicjr) February 25, 2023
Teams love players willing to do whatever it takes, and Johnson did a lot even without the ball. With Johnson showcasing his willingness to do that this early in his career, imagine how quickly he can gain the trust of his NFL coaching staff if he keeps doing those kinds of things.
Pad Level / Lateral Agility / Route-Running
While each of these three weaknesses could get its own section, grouping them all together shows that they’re all correctable.
As previously mentioned, Johnson’s running style is a bit too upright, leaving him open to defenders going low for tackles. This could potentially lead to Johnson suffering any myriad of lower-body injuries (ankle sprains, knee injuries, etc.), but any NFL running back room will work on correcting this part of his game.
His speed and lateral agility are elements of Johnson’s game that are tough to improve, with defenders frequently running him down from behind. With his lacking lateral agility, Johnson could revert into more of a running back that prefers to run in between tackles and not bounce runs outside, which could be both good and bad.
Finally, while Johnson does have soft hands and good acumen when it comes to diagnosing how defenders are covering him, he is below average in running routes. A bit stiff in his delivery and not all that shifty, Johnson’s role in the passing game likely won’t include any specific plays. This would lower his potential PPR ceiling by not having a sustained role in the passing game, so beware.
Having more than one running back drafted out of the same college backfield usually doesn’t equate to sustained NFL success. But Johnson is not your run-of-the-mill RB2 from the Longhorn backfield.
Having a unique combination of size, agility, and balance makes Johnson stand out in his RB class competition. Johnson left the Senior Bowl early due to injury, so we didn’t see his full repertoire of skills. But once the NFL Combine happens, keep an eye on the draft stock of Johnson – it will only rise.
Every team needs a physical RB that is not afraid to stick his nose into the muck for team fit. His best fit is on a gap scheme team like the Detroit Lions, New York Giants, or Las Vegas Raiders. These teams had success with the gap scheme in 2022, making for great fits for Johnson.
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