With the 43rd pick in the NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions selected Auburn Tigers’ running back Kerryon Johnson. Johnson has an understated yet intriguing prospect profile, but lands in a crowded backfield.
More on that in a moment, but first, a look at why the Lions made him an early second-round pick.
Many people had pegged Derrius Guice as the Lions’ target, but they surprised everyone by taking the less-flashy Johnson.
One of the youngest players in the draft, Johnson pairs proven three-down production with a high draft capital. Those are two huge check marks, but despite the fact that Detroit clearly thinks highly of him, it’s not an ideal landing spot — at least in the short term.
Kerryon Johnson, Auburn, 6-0, 212 pounds
Johnson finished his career with a productive workhorse season which saw him earn SEC Offensive Player of the Year honors.
Despite finishing his career with back-to-back seasons of double-digit TDs and 15-plus receptions against the best competition, Johnson has been something of a forgotten man in an excellent group of RBs.
He profiles as a three-down back at the next level, posting the eighth-best Workhorse Score in the class, just behind Rashaad Penny and Ronald Jones.
The Prospect Lab has Johnson as one of the best values of 2018 with a score of 69, good for fourth best in the class.
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Johnson has sufficient size. He didn’t stand out as an explosive athlete at the combine, and that might be the big knock against him and help to explain his relatively low yards per carry. He was more involved in his team’s passing game than even Penny and Guice, and is the second-youngest RB in the draft.1
That gives him a significant edge against his older counterparts.
In terms of comparables, while there are some busts, there are also several guys who’ve carved out a valuable three-down role in the NFL. But again, it’s worth pointing out that Johnson is younger than all of them. He may not be an explosive athlete, but neither was Dalvin Cook.
Johnson came in sixth in the Scouting Index, just behind Penny, and eighth in Anthony Amico’s RB Model.
The Landing Spot
While Johnson profiles as a workhorse back, it’s going to be tough to flash those skills on a crowded depth chart.
Johnson seems to fill no immediate need for the Lions. He’s solid runner with a penchant for scoring TDs, but so is LeGarrette Blount. He’s a prolific pass catcher out of the backfield, but so is Theo Riddick.
Our look at RB opportunity scores shows that Detroit was the second-worst landing spot in terms of free targets and rushes.
None of this is to say that Johnson can’t emerge as a workhorse back in Detroit, but it may take some time.
Blount is on a one-year contract, and it would only cost the Lions $2 million in dead cap money if they wanted to cut him this year. Ameer Abdullah hasn’t been able to stay healthy and is a free agent after this year. Riddick is signed through 2019.
While there are a lot of bodies in the Detroit backfield, none of them are good enough to block a second-round draft pick in the long term. I do think Johnson starts games at some point this season, but as one of the youngest players in the draft, the Lions have no need to rush him.
Johnson’s stock in rookie dynasty drafts takes a bit of a hit with the perceived lack in opportunity. He’s currently an early second-round selection, and I expect to see him slide into the mid-to-late second of rookie drafts.
If he does, he immediately becomes a stellar value pick for those owners willing to wait a year or two for Johnson to get the chance to fulfill his three-down potential.
- He’s tied with Derrius Guice at 20.5-years old. (back)