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 11:14 AM ^

Not sure about slot -- given he lacks juke moves -- but outside WR seems like it would be an option. He's ~6ft, has fantastic straight line speed and "natural hands" (per ESPN), to me all that adds up to outside WR. Especially given the need at the position.

He's probably a lock to redshirt, so depending on how the rest of the class fills up he may end up at WR (if Dunn comes on) or RB (if Darboh/Madaris come on). I'm always a fan when we take on local kids.


November 8th, 2011 at 12:33 PM ^

Seemed like he had good hands on his highlight film. He obviously has the speed. And at least enough height for it not to be a problem.

Its possible his best position has always been wide receiver but Pioneer just didn't have the quarterback or another running back to make that an option.

But I don't think its out of the realm of possibility he could play running back. He seems to  hit the hole fast and have decent vision. If you give a kid like this some holes to run through he can get a lot of yards quickly for you.

This seems like a great  pickup for many of the reasons others have stated. Think of him as a flex player who can play return man, gunner, running back, or wide receiver. He is fast, which you can't teach or build through a weight program and he is local so he won't transfer if he doesn't get the playing time he wants. Great choice Drake. Go Blue!!



November 8th, 2011 at 11:10 AM ^

Because while you don't think a scholarship is worth it for that, as we've seen (or not seen), a good one can make a big difference in a game.  Maybe how Breaston was a Running Back who needed a redshirt to learn a different position.  (Though he was much higher rated).  Dileo 2.0?  I just miss having any sort of homerun threat back there....


November 8th, 2011 at 11:08 AM ^

Based on Ace's scouting report I thought I knew what I was going to see, but this seems totally different.  I know I am in for abuse, but he looks slow to me. 


November 8th, 2011 at 11:14 AM ^

He's got a long stride that makes him look slower than he really is—I had the same impression last weekend, and then he ran by me while passing several defenders seemingly without effort. It's that Steve Breaston-style gallop, and he's definitely got wheels. The track numbers speak for themselves.


November 8th, 2011 at 11:42 AM ^

Boss showed up so I cut off my post.  I mean the track numbers speak for themselves so I know he is fast, but nothing wowed me on the film like this guy is really flying.  Good call on the Breaston long stride I knew he looked weird running and couldn't pinpoint it.

Great work this will be one of the interesting guys to watch as he develops.  I agreee he didn't break many tackles but he did appear to be able to cut a little bit.   He will be Hoke's version of RR's  DJ Wiiliamson. 

True Blue Grit

November 8th, 2011 at 11:09 AM ^

According to Sam Webb this morning, Johnson said before this season he hadn't been as fully committed to becoming a top college prospect and focussed more time on track.  So, that's why he didn't go to the camps where he could have developed himself as a football player more.  It sounds like he's made the commitment to being the best football player he can become, and Fred Jackson must feel he can turn Johnson into a good college back. 

But, this certainly DOES make the remaining scholarship situation very, very tight. 


November 8th, 2011 at 11:11 AM ^

Wish the kid the best and hope he becomes the next Mike Hart, but this seems like an illogical move.  Schollies are at a premium and the coaches are effectively bidding against themsleves.  Even if he commited elsewhere (Eastern?), there's all but a 100% chance he could have been ninja'd later in the process.

The coaches must either think he's a total diamond in the rough or they're down on our chances with big names.  Hoping it's the former.


November 8th, 2011 at 12:44 PM ^

Fred Jackson's "hit rate" with RB recruits hasn't been all that good in the past few years, so, unfortunately, I am inclined to think it might be the latter.


(Note: this is a comment on Freddy Jack's RB recruiting more than any bashing of Drake, so you should only neg this post if you are a FJ-lover. :p )


November 8th, 2011 at 11:11 AM ^

If you're going to list his track times, we might as well list the recent ones.  In this past State Finals, we won the D1 110 hurdles championship with a 13.73 time.  That's very fast.


November 8th, 2011 at 11:11 AM ^

We'd get two offensive linemen to commit? From all the visit stuff you've hinted at, it seems more we might be lucky to get one to commit, no more pull in any package deals.


November 8th, 2011 at 12:44 PM ^

I didn't think we even wanted 2 more offensive lineman even if they were Andrus Peat and Garnett. I don't think we were ever going to take 7.

That being said, Drake is a great  pickup because he fits two positions of need. RB or WR. Plus he won't transfer and will be ok redshirting, playing special teams etc. And if he ends up being a starter, that's great. Can't teach speed or height.


November 8th, 2011 at 11:16 AM ^

Strange pickup at this point of the process.  Seems like a guy Michigan could wait on until they see how the rest of 2012 recruiting pans out.

But maybe they already know how the rest of 2012 recruiting pans out.


Hardware Sushi

November 8th, 2011 at 11:12 AM ^

Treiu said he was getting the three-star bump anyway on the 15th when they reasses rankings, but now it will look like he got it simply because of the Michigan offer.

Regardless, he's a 3-star for the rankings hounds out there. Also, my uneducated opinion says he plays wideout in college.

Doctor Wolverine

November 8th, 2011 at 10:43 PM ^

If we are recruiting him as a wideout, does that imply the coaches are not feeling too good about our other recruits there? I hope this kid turns out to be a stud, but at this point he seems to be a little behind in his football development compared to the other recruits we are in on.


November 8th, 2011 at 11:12 AM ^

even if the numbers say he's fast, he seems like he takes a while to reach his top gear.  his vision is iffy too.

that said, here's hoping i'm wrong.  congratualations to him and i hope he becomes a great player.


November 8th, 2011 at 11:16 AM ^

Regarding the upshot for the remainder of the class:  I fully support taking a couple wide receivers, Dunn if he wants to come, and either or both of Yuri Wright or Shaq Thompson. This doesn't mean that offensive linemen aren't important. It does mean that with five in the 2012 class, we will have to go for another five in the 2013 class. It is ridiculous that it ever got to this point, but the abysmal OL recruiting is in the past, and there isn't much of anything we can do about it now.

The one caveat, for me, is if Garnett or Banner want to come here (unlikely, in my opinion,) or another five star out of the blue wants to commit (for instance, if someone like DE Noah Spence is so turned off by the PSU debacle that he opens things up.) If that should happen, well, we'd have a problem, but we'd have to deal with it. Either that would mean an unrenewed fifth year for someone, or more attrition, or one or more of our current commits decide to open things up and look elsewhere.

My understanding is that 28 is a hard cap, regardless of early enrollees or anything else.


November 8th, 2011 at 11:43 AM ^

28 per year is a very hard cap in the Big Ten. The Big Ten allows you 25 signees. If you want to sign more than 25, you can backdate 3. But you have to show how you are going to get 28 available scholarships out in the open (prove that you're only at 85-28 or 57 without shady dealings) and (I believe) it has to be approved by the conference.

This loophole is much cleaner than the SEC's has been which was "Nothing to see here... BEST FOOTBALL TEAMS EVAR!" The SEC presidents did just do something to eliminate oversigning though...


November 8th, 2011 at 11:17 AM ^

This doesn't seem to make much sense to me given the glaring needs at OL and WR and given that we have a stable of backs that are 3* or better.

Let him walk on and then earn a schollie a la Kovacs.