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
|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.
FAKE 40 TIME
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).
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
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.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
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.