Hello: Drake Johnson

Submitted by Ace on November 8th, 2011 at 10:57 AM

According to Sam Webb ($, info in header), Josh Helmholdt ($), and also Drake Johnson himself, the Ann Arbor Pioneer running back was just offered by Michigan and committed this morning. Johnson becomes the 24th member of the class of 2012, leaving four spots left in what's expected to be a 28-man class.

Photo credit: Angela J. Cesere, AnnArbor.com


Scout Rivals ESPN 24/7 Sports
2*, #133 RB NR RB 2*, #153 RB NR RB

As you can see, Johnson is very much an under-the-radar prospect, garnering two-star ratings from Scout and ESPN while not being ranked at all by Rivals or 24/7. The consensus on his size is about 6'1", 205, though when I saw him last weekend (more on that later), I thought he looked a little shorter and a bit under 200 pounds, but that's one man's impressions from the bleachers.

There's not a whole lot out there on Johnson, as one might expect for a sleeper prospect, but ESPN has a full evaluation ($):

This is a productive guy with good inside and outside running skills; we see the ability to shed and pull through tackles; is productive returning punts; flashes good underneath coverage skills as an outside linebacker and should be an effective special team's player. From a deep alignment this prospect displays good vision; is quick locating and getting into creases showing the elusiveness needed to make first tacklers miss in space. His quick feet and balance allow him to get outside where he does most of his damage; runs with and over the pads, downhill, slashing style; we see a short burst when in traffic with the deceptive long speed needed to outrun opponents at his present level of competition. Appears to have natural hands; is productive running the shuttle pass and seam route from a slot alignment; can catch in traffic while demonstrating the ability to adjust to throws out of his frame. This guy flashes the toughness needed to be an every down back, capable of staying on the field in long yardage situations.

One thing I certainly agree with here is Johnson's ability to play every down—he is essentially Pioneer's entire offense, regularly toting the rock 30+ times a game. His speed is also without question a strength, as Johnson is the two-time defending state champ in the 110-meter hurdles. In an article by Mick McCabe, Johnson says his track conditioning plays a big part in his ability to be a workhorse back:

In the past three games, he has gained 1,074 yards, and he has scored at least four touchdowns in each of the past four games.

This kid shouldn't be able to get out of bed the morning after games.

"I guess it's conditioning to get ready for it," Johnson said. "I did a lot more running because I run track, too. I spent an extra amount of time this summer just doing track workouts so I would be ready to carry the ball a bunch of times, because Coach had told me I was going to be carrying the rock a lot."

In a complete stroke of luck, I watched Johnson play in the district final against Temperance Bedford last week, and my prediction that he'd be a preferred walk-on at best clearly missed the mark. Here were my impressions of his game:

As a Pioneer grad, I hate to say this, but Johnson looked to me like a track athlete playing football, and not a player who should garner a BCS-level scholarship offer. His straight-ahead speed is very good, and that's all he needed against Bedford, but Johnson practically has to stop running entirely to make a cut—he really doesn't have any juke moves, instead choosing to bounce outside and run as fast as he can—and he also fumbled the ball three times (losing one) despite not taking any huge hits.

While Johnson usually fell forward, he also tended to go down on first contact, and instead of taking on hits he'd try to spin off contact, even against smaller defenders. The only time he really fought for extra yards, he ended up fumbling—he often carries the ball away from his body and seems to forget about ball security when he's in traffic. Pioneer listed him at 6'1", 215, and Scout has him in that same range, but he looked closer to 5'11", 190 to me (comparing him to his teammates and using the same roster, so take that with a grain of salt). Johnson is a heck of a high school player, and he's tasked with being the entirety of the Pioneer offense, but I see him as a preferred walk-on at best for Michigan.

I stand by my scouting report, and you can judge for yourself in the highlight video below. He's got the frame and the speed to be a BCS-caliber back, but I'm not sure I see the tools for success—namely in agility, power running, and ball security—necessary to deliver on that potential. Obviously, I'd love to be wrong here, especially when talking about a fellow Pioneer.


Before Michigan swooped in today, Johnson held just one scholarship offer for football (he's also a highly-sought track prospect), and that was from Eastern Michigan. Rivals lists interest but no offer from Army, Syracuse, and Toledo. One thing to note is that Johnson did not go to any football camps ($) after his junior year because of track, which could help explain the lack of evaluations/ratings/offers.


Johnson has put up some ridiculous numbers for Pioneer, rushing for 2757 yards and 37 TDs (plus one receiving) so far this season, which leaves him just 133 yards shy of the single-season state rushing record with an upcoming regional final against Detroit Catholic Central this weekend. As a junior, Johnson rushed for 2200 yards, according to Allen Trieu ($). Part of the numbers can be attributed to his huge workload—last weekend, he rushed 36 times for 348 yards and four touchdowns, and carried the ball on all but five or six of Pioneer's snaps—but his elite speed helps him break off huge runs with regularity—he also had a 95-yard touchdown run against Bedford.


Since Johnson hasn't attended football camps, there's no 40 time reported on any of the four recruiting services, so no FAKEs to hand out. There are, however, very real numbers from his track career, and they are impressive:

55m hurdles - 7.76, set AAU Indoor National Record.
60m hurdles - 8.09, ranked in top ten in the country, indoor 2010
110m hurdles - 14.16, fastest freshman time run in the country. Placed 3rd at MHSAA Outdoor State Championships. Highest place for freshman hurdler in Michigan ever.

He's fast, yo.


Highlights from the first nine games of this season:

A combo video of sophomore and junior highlights lives here. You can also see his victory in the Division 1 110-meter hurdles state final (he's in white with the purple stripe, and also the guy running faster than everyone).


You've seen my thoughts on Johnson—I'm surprised he a got a scholarship offer at this point in the process—and I think he'll be a depth and special teams player for Michigan. His lack of agility and real power is disconcerting if the Wolverines expect him to become a feature back, though his speed and size make him an intruiging prospect regardless—he could find a home as a returner or special teams demon while trying to work his way up the depth chart at running back.


Michigan is now down to four remaining open spots in the 2012 class, and there's still a very definite need for two receivers, with Michigan still very much in the mix for Jordan Payton, Amara Darboh, Monty Madaris, Jehu Chesson, and even Stefon Diggs. The question will be how they use their remaining two spots. Sam Webb said on WTKA this morning that he doesn't expect Johnson's commitment to affect how Michigan will pursue Bri'onte Dunn, and that makes sense to me—I'd be surprised if the coaching staff felt settled at running back with just Johnson in the fold.

If Michigan misses on Dunn, there are still two spots for another offensive lineman and a defensive back. If they don't, it'll be a tough decision for the coaches to figure out which position they prioritize higher (I'd guess O-line, but it would be difficult—and potentially impossible—to turn down Yuri Wright or Shaq Thompson if they were ready to commit and a spot was open). This almost surely rules out the possibility of the Wolverines taking two more offensive linemen in the class.



November 8th, 2011 at 12:40 PM ^

I think it is great that we got him.  Everyone wants to increase team spead.  You always hear people saying we need SEC speed.  Give the guy a chance at running back.  If it does not work out, move him to receiver.  Brian and everyone else are stating that Hemingway, Roundtree and our other receivers cannot get separation because of a lack of speed. Next year we will have Stonum, Hayes and maybe, Drake, if he doesn't red shirt. That will definitely increase the speed quotient of our receivers and returners.


November 8th, 2011 at 3:09 PM ^

That's really not true. Remember, Carvin Johnson started his first game as a true frosh for us, so I'd say he exceeded his "meh" rating. Who knows why he left exactly, but just because he wasn't all Big Ten as a frosh doesn't mean he was a bust.

Do you remember who else that excuse was applied to? Most recently Jake Ryan, Desmond Morgan and Frank Clark.


November 8th, 2011 at 12:45 PM ^

kid in that he couldn't get much love from a lot of schools and I think he turned out okay.  Mike Hart was an offeree that pissed off a lot of people.  Braylon wasn't a high rated recruit.  Lets trust in the coaches and see how it pans out.

J. Lichty

November 8th, 2011 at 12:50 PM ^

From highlight tape. Has good straight line speed.  Can lower a shoulder, but does not break many tackles.  Hits seams pretty well.  Good hand.  Sounds like Shaw to me.  Notice how much playing time senior healthy Shaw is getting with this staff.  He does not have feature back skills for this staff.  Will be a role player in this offense.


Cool One

November 8th, 2011 at 1:15 PM ^

I agree. There is nothing wrong with a role player. We are not going to get 28 *5 recruits. It's beneficial that Drake is from Ann Arbor so he can host recruits and show them around town. I think this may be a case of don't let a Pioneer guy get away and have a potential great career at let's say a Northwestern and say damn how did we let this guy out of our back yard?


November 8th, 2011 at 7:38 PM ^

This guy is a lot bigger than Shaw though, which makes a big difference.  Shaw was listed at 185 on his recruiting page, which was certainly generous.  Even if Jackson's is as well, it still looks like Drake is 15-20 lbs bigger than Shaw was coming out of high school.  If Shaw had all the qualities he has but was 20 lbs bigger, he might be the starter right now.

Jon Benke

November 8th, 2011 at 1:03 PM ^

Sam talked about the odds that TE A.J. Williams moves to OL, and DE Pharoah Brown moving to TE.  He said there was going to be mention of this on scout.com.  That's an interesting idea.

That could have a huge impact on the final four spots.  I'll save my opinions of Drake till Feb. 2nd, when it all comes together.


November 8th, 2011 at 1:07 PM ^

Yeah, I just listened to the podcast for today's RR (not that RR) and was surprised/intrigued to hear Sam talking about how awesome Williams has looked as an OT as well as the very distinct possiblity that Brown ends up at TE.

Those two moves would effectively put an end to OL recruiting. Like the e-mailer who posited the question, I wonder if this would open up WDE recruiting or would the staff be content with Ojemudia (whose lack of size concerns me as a possible DE) as the only WDE in the class?


November 8th, 2011 at 1:42 PM ^

I've been talking about the need to get more OL, but I don't think taking from TE makes sense.  With Koger, Watson, and (one year later) Moore out the door, the only TE's are going to be receiving types like Funchess and Miller.  For what this offense runs you need at least one 'true' TE.  A guy like Brown might be able to bulk up into that role eventually, but it's going to take a few years.  Williams seems like he has a strong chance to play right away at TE next year.  Otherwise, it's going to be walk-ons.


November 8th, 2011 at 7:44 PM ^

Even if AJ Williams stays at TE, he's not going to solve our TE issues as a true frosh.  Williams hasn't played a single snap of TE to date, as far as I know, so I doubt he'd step on campus and jump up the depth chart.  He's never run a route of caught a pass in a game.

Now, if you thought he'd come on and simply block and do nothing else, then I don't see why 5th year senior Brandon Moore or one of our older TE walk-ons can't do that.  Or just another OL.  I also wouldn't be surprised if RIcardo Miller is 240-245 next fall, meaning he won't be a slouch on the line either.

If Pharaoh Brown moves to TE, he'll be able to make an impact as well.  He's listed on Rivals at 6'6" 220 but I've heard he's closer to 6'7" 230 already, and he'll probably pack on a few more pounds before he shows up.  Don't sleep on him.

Minus The Houma

November 8th, 2011 at 1:19 PM ^

I think he improved quite a bit from his Soph/Junior highlights to Senior as well.  Added some moves, ran through more tackles, better vision.  He looks to have a frame that could definitley hit 220.  Congratulations and good luck, Drake.


November 8th, 2011 at 1:49 PM ^

...Zac Johnson #36.. who has appeared strictly on special teams during his time in Ann Arbor.  Carr had recruited him as a preferred walk-on at the safety position.  Even when our safeties looked like dwarfs out there, he didn't crack the rotation.  This kid sounds like more of the same.


November 8th, 2011 at 2:48 PM ^

2 things, FAST, and this kid does not go down. I like these type of runners because those are 2 things you can't teach. Speed and the will to keep going. Get him in a college weight room, get him coached up and i think this guy will be a good player for this program. True sleeper, remember the name.

The Mick

November 8th, 2011 at 4:24 PM ^

A scholarship offer for Drake playing right on front lawn of the Michigan coaches can only mean two things: The Michigan coaches are a bunch of loosers who have no idea how to evaluate talent, or Drake in fact is a guy totally under the radar. Given the fact that we have a pretty awesome class so far and that I really trust the coaches, I more than welcome the offer and am looking forward to the hurdle speedester from Pioneer.


November 8th, 2011 at 4:35 PM ^

Lets face it the kid has the size, speed, and the stats to be a 4 star player.  The only reason that he's not a 4 star is because he didn't sell out and go buy his stars at a camp.   He was winning elite track competitions while other RB prospects were attending camps and essentially buying their stars.  Remember Mike Hart?  He didn't have much of a offer sheet.  All these new recruiting web sites and services like 24/7 sports are a joke.  Basically a bunch of computer geeks trying a new way to make money.  Praying on young kids to make a living.   Sorry "ACE"  I aint buying what your trying to sell.  He's the best RB in the state of Michigan and one of the best in the midwest period.   Sometimes I wonder about your knowledge of the game.  You seem to be clueless!


November 8th, 2011 at 9:01 PM ^

Maybe other programs didn't offer because Michigan hadn't to date and it wouldn't make sense for Michigan to not even offer a good prospect that played right next door. Who knows? It's good that he was offered and has accepted. You'll look good in wings Drake. Good luck and Go Blue.


November 8th, 2011 at 9:29 PM ^

Drake Johnson sounds like he could be a Tyrone Wheatley or a Carlos Brown (let's hope for the former).  There are obviously no guarantees of translating HS success to the next level but he has world class speed (you can't coach that), incredible production against top flight HS competition (Mike Hart set HS records against lower level competition which is partially why he was under the radar as well), his frame (call him 6' 200 lbs with the potential to get to 220 after a couple of years).  KO return specialist and/or WR potential (Al Davis would have loved this kid).  The fact that he's from Ann Arbor and has dreamed of going to Michigan his whole life is an extra credit bonus. 

South TX MFan

November 9th, 2011 at 9:11 AM ^

I'm pretty happy with this pick up. He has 2 things you can't coach: a natural build and speed. He also has the strength and conditioning to be a workhorse. The rest can be taught. I think there's a tremendous upside to him and I think he has the potential to do great things. Welcome Drake!


November 9th, 2011 at 11:30 AM ^

@ish: it's not so much that he takes a while to get to top speed, it's that his COD is terrible. You can't accelerate if you can't get into the open field, and you can't get into the open field you can't evade people. I don't know, maybe he could get better, but I'm not getting my hopes up.