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Steelers 2018 NFL Draft Prospect Watch: RB Kerryon Johnson

Kerryon Johnson (21)
Auburn football vs Ole Miss on Saturday, October 7, 2017 in Auburn, Ala.
Photo by Wade Rackley/Auburn Athletics

With the 2018 NFL Draft in a little under two weeks, we examine a running back that could potentially become Le’Veon Bell‘s backup this coming season, and more if/when Bell leaves after the 2018 season.

Player Description:

Name: Kerryon Johnson

College: Auburn

Height: 6 ?0

Weight: 213 lbs

Combine Numbers:

40 yard: 4.56 seconds ( average time from Auburn’s pro day )

Bench Press: 11 reps

Vertical Jump: 40.0 inches

Broad Jump: 126 inches

3 Cone Drill: 7.07 seconds


When Kerryon Johnson met with the Pittsburgh Steelers during the NFL Combine in March, he compared his running style to that of All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell. Perhaps this comparison was appropriate. If one were to compare their collegiate stats, there are a few similarities. As was case with Bell at Michigan State, Johnson’s defining season with Auburn came in his junior year. In addition to recording 1391 yards on 285 carries, averaging 4.9 yards per carry, he ranked ninth in the nation with 18 rushing touchdowns. His most notable game came against Ole Miss, when he finished with 204 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns. Johnson was deservedly awarded SEC offensive player of the year, All-SEC and second team All-American.

When viewing Johnson on tape, he has such a diverse skillset, it is hard to pinpoint one thing that he does exceptionally well. He is as well balanced a football player as I have seen in this class. Whether it is blocking a linebacker coming in on a blitz, returning punts, or catching the ball in open field, there are few things Johnson can’t do. Though he is not overly flashy in contrast to someone like LSU‘s Derrius Guice, he has the ability to be just as efficient at the NFL level with his skillset.

Physical Runner:

Considering his size and weight, Kerryon is deceivably stronger than many would have expected. His running style in many ways is reminicent of Steelers rookie James Conner when he was at Pitt. The difference in this case is that Johnson has better lateral movement and is more adept to making cuts, whereas Conner is a more traditional north-south type runner. In short yard or goal line situations, I noted that Johnson is not afraid of lowering his shoulders and taking whatever contact is necessary to get to his destination. He is as aggressive and relentless a runner as any running back available in this draft class. Simply, he is the type of runner that punished defenders if the opportunity presented itself.

This particular clip speaks for itself. Johnson takes what was seemingly a standard handoff play for a few yards, and bulldozes his way for another 20+ yards. Note the way he lowers his shoulder into the first defender, then a terrific stiff arm on the second Ole Miss defender. This type of play was standard for Johnson, as he grew a propensity for physically overwhelming opposing defenses.

Reliable Hands:

One of the aspects that makes Johnson comparable to a running back like Bell is his ability to catch the ball in open field. If there was one area that the Auburn offense did not exploit enough when it came to Johnson, it would be this one. When he was given the chance to catch the ball in open field, Johnson displayed good hand-eye coordination and soft hands. What was interesting to note, his receiving numbers were similar to those of Bell’s during his college career. Bell finished with 531 receiving yards, while Johnson finished with 478 receiving yards. In their respective junior years, Bell finished with 167, while Johnson finished with 194. What is evident in Johnson is his natural ability to catch the ball, which made him somewhat of a dual threat.

In this particular play against Alabama, the Auburn quarterback excutes a screen pass perfectly to Johnson who takes it for the first down. Generally when someone has a natural ability to catch the ball, you don’t hear very much sound. In this example, you don’t hear very much sound; hence the soft hands I noted earlier.

Questionable Breakaway speed:

When evaluating Johnson in this aspect, I was both surprised and disappointed. The time he ran in the 40, in my opinion, is a poor representation of the type of speed he displays on film. He is much slower than his time suggests. His initial burst is good, but Johnson lacks the ability to take that next gear in order to pull away from opposing defenders.

This particular example against Mississippi State is a good example where having breakaway speed would have been beneficial. Johnson in this clip take the handoff, patiently finds the hole and accelerates. At this point, Johnson has an open path to the end zone. If he were a running back with breakaway speed, this would have been a touchdown. Instead, the Bulldogs’ defender is able to catch up to Johnson and force him out of bounds. What was noticeable was the manner in which his speed declined once he got to the next level; generally great runners are able to get faster once they reach that next level. Just like Bell, he doesn’t possess natural speed that many teams look for in a running back, yet considering the variety of other skills he brings to the table, he can compensate for this weakness.

Though it is unlikely the Steelers will be able to get Guice in the draft, Johnson is most certainly no consolation prize. He brings a skillset that can translate to the NFL quickly, and has the ability to contribute to an offense immediately. Though Johnson has a long way to go before becoming a running back the caliber of Bell, he comes equipped with many of his skills which can only get better with time and the right coaching.

Born and raised Ottawa, Ontario Canada, Kelly is a Steelers contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. Formerly a contributor for SBNation's 'Behind the Steel Curtain'. Kelly can be reached via the Twitter handle @kanozie80

1 Comment on Steelers 2018 NFL Draft Prospect Watch: RB Kerryon Johnson

  1. I can’t wait for the obligatory ‘Kerryon, my Wayward Son’ chants.

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