2015 NFL Draft Scouting Report – David Johnson, RB Northern Iowa


The 2014 NFL Draft featured a number of FCS running backs that were not only drafted, but came in and produced as rookies.  The 2015 NFL Draft could have more in that vein, especially David Johnson of Northern Iowa.  One of the most productive backs in FCS history, the homegrown Panther has been an extremely versatile threat during his career.

The Panthers running game uses a good amount of zone concepts, taking advantage of Johnson’s vision and cutting ability.  He is able to read defenses and attack the hole as it comes available, which works for what he likes to do.  While he has been an extremely productive runner, Johnson’s ability to impact the passing game might make him more dangerous.  Using him on any number of different passing concepts, both out of the backfield and in the slot, Johnson looks like a receiver in the passing game and has produced like one.  Johnson has also been effective as a blocker.

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Vitals & Build

  • Date of Birth not listed
  • 6’1″ 229lbs (Listed)

Johnson is taller than a lot of running backs with long legs that stand out with the way he runs the football. He has a strong build but is still relatively lean.

Johnson’s body control and agility are good and he demonstrates good footwork.  His acceleration is solid and when he has the space, his long legs get going and he shows good long speed.  There is room to continue adding strength and weight if Johnson wants, but much may depend on how he and the team that wants him envision him at the next level.

Running Style

Johnson’s running style is predicated on working laterally first.  He loves to use jump cuts to read a play before sticking his foot in the ground and attacking downhill.  His long legs and ability to jump allow him to cover a great deal of ground and completely change the complexion of a play.

  • Johnson makes the outside jump cut, but is able to stick his foot in the ground and run inside of the block from his tight end, is too fast for the one defender that has a shot at him and scores.

The zone blocking scheme concepts that are often employed allow Johnson to run outside and decide where he wants to take a given play.  He is not afraid to attack up the middle and will cut back inside when he sees an opportunity, but Johnson certainly seems to prefer to run outside when he is able.

  • On the draw, Johnson sees the defender in position to stop the run, so he makes a dramatic jump cut to the outside to get around the right guard to get a solid gain.

While Johnson is a big back in terms of his size and weight, he runs more like a slasher.  He can get behind his pads when needed, but does not show a tremendous amount of functional power as a pure runner.  Johnson has to bend far over to get behind his shoulder pads and this can cause him to get off balance and fall forward, which can make it difficult for him to really keep driving his legs.  He tends to run slightly high and as long as he is able to anticipate contact, he will adjust and put himself in a good position to absorb the hit.  The slight concern is on hits where he is caught by surprise.

Johnson demonstrates pretty good instincts and vision for the game.  There are situations where he will make a cut or find a hole that did not appear to be there or seemed to be out of Johnson’s peripheral vision that he will make.  At times, he can occasionally get a little too greedy going for the big play, but the vast majority of the time, Johnson does a great job of making the right play.  When Johnson is able to get into the open field, he is a dangerous runner both because of his quickness as well as his long speed.

Route Running & Technique

Johnson is an advanced route runner that has been an integral part of the Northern Iowa passing attack.  They will use him on some screens and quick passes, but he runs receiver routes that give them an added dynamic in their offense.

From attacking the sideline to the middle of the sideline as well as running routes at every depth, Johnson runs as sophisticated a route tree as any back in college and one that should easily translate to the NFL.  Johnson has shown he not only understands how to run routes, but how to attack and set up defenders to get open.  As a result, he does a great job of putting himself in position to create make-able throws for his quarterback.

  • Johnson does a nice job of settling in space and getting open quickly for a short gain.
  • Johnson attacks the middle of the field and loses the Iowa linebacker with a quick hesitation move, allowing him to create plenty of separation.

Johnson is about as close to ready out of the box to run an NFL route tree as there is to be found at the collegiate level.  He looks like a professional in college and the results in that type of matchup are as one would expect.  Johnson looks like he could be a player opponents have to account for quickly in the NFL as part of the passing game.


Johnson shows natural hands and an understanding of how to frame the football.  He uses his hands to catch the football, is comfortable catching the ball away from his body and does not need to see the football out of the quarterback’s hands to adjust and make a play on it.

Johnson does a great job of being able to adjust to bad passes, flashing fluid hips and great feet so he can make the quarterback look good at times.  He is not afraid to work and catch passes through contact.  At times, he has also shown a flare for the spectacular.

  • Johnson goes out for the wheel route and makes a fantastic adjustment, catching the ball near the sideline, staying in bounds and beating the defender for a huge gain down the field.  Then, rather than going out of bounds, he cuts back into the middle of the field and picks up another 20 yards.
  • Johnson reaches up and pulls down this pass with one hand before securing it with his body.


Johnson is a willing blocker who does a nice job of eating up ground, being aggressive with blocks.  He is more than strong enough to hold his own and does not find himself getting knocked back.  Johnson has a nice, wide base which makes it difficult for opponents to get around him.  Combine that with his aggressive mindset and the strength to get a good punch and he is able to do a nice job in pass protection that should only get better with more experience.

  • After the play action fake, Johnson slides outside and makes the block, enabling his quarterback to throw a touchdown pass.
  • On the double A gap blitz, Johnson appears to misjudge which opponent the center is going to get and does not pick up either blitzer as a result.  The quarterback is sacked as a result.

If there is an issue that Johnson needs to improve, it is his patience.  At times, he is too quick to try to diagnose and will take himself out of position when he can take time to wait and see the play develop and have the unblocked rusher present himself.

  • Johnson tries to get involved in the block here but gets caught in the wash on the twist, not getting a good block on anyone.  If he is slightly more patient, he would have gotten the defensive tackle easily.

System Fit

The best situation for Johnson would be going to a team that runs a lot of zone concepts and is willing to be aggressive with their backs as receiving threats.  While he is better suited to be part of a stable at least initially, Johnson has the ability to be a back that can come in and run the ball, his greatest asset out of the gate is likely what he does in the passing game.  His ability to protect the passer as well as his intelligence and savvy as a receiver could make him a player that quarterbacks ask to have on the field in critical situations.

Draft Projection

David Johnson projects as a fringe Top 100 pick that will be an attractive option to teams that value a back that can be a good receiver and blocker.

The clips were provided by DraftBreakdown.com