When watching the UCF Knights in 2013, there was one player who consistently made me say “wow,” and it wasn’t Blake Bortles. It was a player who should be a top target when looking for late round rookie picks who can make a dynasty impact at the running back position. His name is Storm Johnson.
After Johnson was finally picked at #222 overall by Jacksonville in the 2014 NFL Draft, I could not help but feel he had been overlooked. This has been a theme throughout his college career – it is hard not to be forgotten when you have transferred, played in the same backfield as a quarterback selected at #3 overall and also shared time in your final collegiate year with bruising freshman William Stanback (Stanback had 105 carries to Johnson’s 213 in 2013). This was part of the reason why he fell to the seventh round and why he sat behind the big names such as Carlos Hyde, Bishop Sankey and Jeremy Hill in most rookie running back rankings before the draft (9th at DLF and 13th on both NFL and CBS). However, I believe he is worthy of being in the conversation as a top rookie back and potential starter in this league – he couldn’t have landed in a better spot than Jacksonville.
What Makes Storm Special?
Instincts and ability to see the whole of the field are two things I value highly in a college running back. Much like in the NFL, many backs are put in great situations to have production at the college level, but this production does not translate to the next level unless they have the ability to do the little things at the position that will lead to continued success. Johnson does those things, and also has outstanding instincts and a feel for the game. Every running back has his own distinct style, but he is a player that is both effective and exciting to watch. The first thing that pops out to you when watching him is the quick feet and ability to make people miss. For a relatively tall player (six feet) he stays extremely low to the ground and his agility is at times mesmerizing.
His game against Louisville last year was a real breakout moment for me. Plays like this 20 yard catch-and-run showcased the awareness, agility, vision and acceleration that were also evident throughout the rest of the game. He finished the night with 18 carries for 109 yards, four catches for 79 yards and a touchdown as both a runner and receiver. Johnson has very good hands and is a great option out of the backfield in the screen game and passing situations. He excels at eluding tacklers in one-on-one situations in open space and that ability will serve him well in the pass-happy NFL for a newly-bolstered Jaguars’ passing attack.
Another aspect of Johnson’s game that stands out is the way he carries the ball exclusively in his right hand, but uses his left as a ‘feeler’ or what I like to call a ‘get off me’ hand. He will put the left hand on his own blocker’s backs to allow them to finish their blocks and open up lanes for him. This technique, along with his great peripheral vision and ability to see cutback lanes, allow him to make plays out of nothing. However, this is an area where opinions on him may differ. Where I use the expression “make plays out of nothing,” others may dislike a runner who ‘dances’ instead of heading north and south. If you, like me, are looking for a player with the slipperiness and elusiveness to make people miss in tight spaces when it seems they should be bottled up, he is a player to target.
Why Did He Fall So Far?
Despite my fascination with Johnson, he is far from perfect (as evidenced by his late selection). Fumbles have been a big problem (eight in the last two years according to NFL.com), and as David Wilson and Stevan Ridley have both shown recently (along with many other young runners in the past), ball security issues can get you off the field and into the doghouse. However, this problem is fixable. Adrian Peterson is a great example of a predominantly right-handed toter who uses his left hand to throw opponents out of the way. Peterson, like Johnson, had fumbling problems coming into the league and in his early years that were highly publicised, but ball security is something that can be taught and he has had only six fumbles since 2010 compared to 13 fumbles in his first three years.
One area where Johnson doesn’t excel is his top-end speed. He is not a blazer and he may get caught from behind on occasion. While speed is huge advantage in this league, I don’t see it as essential to playing the running back position well. In fact, faster backs can often rely too much on their speed and miss out on big opportunities that present themselves when patience and setting up blockers would be a better choice. What he lacks in speed, he makes up for in acceleration and the intelligence to use his speed well. Like many young backs, at times he also fails to show the discipline and decisiveness required to head straight upfield, and may instead bounce runs outside. If he stays inside, he is a much more effective runner.
Invest in Storm
Even though he was drafted in the seventh round, Johnson ended up in one of the best situations of all the rookie running backs when he was selected to be reunited with his UCF teammate Bortles in Jacksonville. In a backfield where the other players competing for touches are Toby Gerhart, Jordan Todman and Denard Robinson, he will have a real chance to make an immediate impact if he can prove in the next few months he is worthy of a roster spot. Johnson will not cost much in your rookie draft, but do not be surprised if he ends up getting his chance to have a fantasy impact next year and beyond. I recommend heading over to Johnson’s page on Draft Breakdown or checking out our ORANGE Report and judging for yourself, but if you only have a few minutes, enjoy some highlights.
Follow James on Twitter @JS_Football for Rookie Draft Talk and Storm Johnson Gifs
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