But, what if you didn’t have any prior beliefs about a player? What if the Combine is when you start to form your opinions about (lesser-known) players?
If that’s the case, then say hello to David Johnson from Northern Iowa, who did his best Ladainian Tomlinson impression in Indianapolis and, after additional research, looks like a future fantasy football dynamo.
Here is what David Johnson did at the NFL Combine:
Now, click on the “Graph” tab at bottom of that embedded image to see what his web looks like.
Not too bad, eh? If you’re keeping score at home, Johnson placed in the top four of five different drills, including two of my favorites; the forty and the three-cone drill.
But, Jon, so what? Who cares about the Combine? Every year we see super athletic guys like this who never pan out.
Maybe the Combine is rubbish and maybe there are some really athletic guys who never pan out, but I think Johnson might be a different story. Why? Because he really is that unique.
The Measurables and The Production
Based on my research, the two most important Combine drills for a running back are the forty and the three-cone. If we search for players with similar weight and performance in those drills, in addition to 1,000+ yards from scrimmage in their final season, we get this list:
|PLAYER||SCHOOL||overall||F Age||Wt||40Yard||3Cone||F Scrmg Yds|
|LaDainian Tomlinson||Texas Christian||5||21.5||221||4.46||6.84||2198|
|David Johnson||Northern Iowa||116||23||224||4.5||6.82||2089|
|Doug Martin||Boise State||31||23||223||4.46||6.79||1554|
|Anthony Allen||Georgia Tech||225||22.4||228||4.56||6.79||1404|
Ten of the 17 guys on this list were drafted in the first two rounds and, among those who weren’t, James Starks and Zac Stacy have been useful in spurts. Not a bad comparison group. Obviously some of these guys have been more successful than others, but that almost isn’t the point; the point is that if the NFL views guys like Johnson as being worthy of top 64 picks – and we know draft position is the most significant indicator of future success – then why wouldn’t we also, as fantasy players, be fascinated by a guy who has the profile of an early round pick?
Speaking of fantasy potential, this might be a good time to point out that David Johnson was a receiver in high school and converted to running back at UNI. How good of a receiver? For his career, he has 1,734 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns. By comparison, Sammie Coates amassed 1,757 yards and 13 touchdowns in his three seasons at Auburn, while Devin Funchess hauled in 1,715 and 15 during his Michigan career. Here are all the backs in my database who weigh 210 pounds or more and had 1,000 career receiving yards:
|PLAYER||SCHOOL||overall||F Age||CAR REC Yds||Wt|
|Charles Sims||West Virginia||69||23.3||2108||214|
|David Johnson||Northern Iowa||116||23.0||1734||224|
|Cory Boyd||South Carolina||238||22.4||1303||213|
|P.J. Pope||Bowling Green||270||21.8||1148||218|
Sure, that list is mostly failures, but it’s also full of guys who mostly never got a crack in the NFL due to their draft fate. Probably the more important thing to glean from that table is that, among hundreds of RB careers in my database (which include many FCS prospects), these are the only 11 guys I could find who weighed over 210 pounds and had more than 1,000 receiving yards for their career.
Also, if you’re wondering why I’ve been using 116 for Johnson’s assumed draft position, it’s because at PlayTheDraft.com, which is essentially a stock market for draft prospects, that is where he’s being valued. Obviously he could be drafted earlier or later, but that’s about as good an approximation for all-player market value that I can find.
The elephant in the room
If you know me and looked at either of those previous tables with scrutiny, you’ll notice that Johnson’s age is the one thing I haven’t touched on yet. He turned 23 at the end of the 2014 season, which is much older than I would like for a prospect. As a reminder, I don’t automatically hate older prospects, I just have different expectations for them. Johnson’s 149 scrimmage yards per game in 2014 are a whisker shy of his age-expectation, which makes me feel a lot better. Even though he was older, he was producing at an appropriate level.
If we combine all of these forces and put them into The RB Prospect Lab, here is who shows up as David Johnson’s comparables:
Pretty impressive list for a guy most people never heard of before the Combine.
Take a look at his footage from the Iowa game and let me know if that dual-threat ability and purple jersey color doesn’t remind you of… never mind, I’m not even going to say it. Enjoy the highlights.