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Pick #42: Chris Johnson?

I know that many Bronco fans were looking at Jonathon Stewart to be worth our #12 pick in the draft, but with our most pressing needs at WR and on the DL, you might have had a hard time convincing your peers that it was a good idea.  Add in the fact that Stewart has undergone foot surgery (rumored to be related to a turf toe injury he suffered through all of last season), with a healing timetable that won't allow any further evaluation to be done before the draft, but that is not expected to keep him out of training camp, and you are really running into a hard sell.

Well, if they just won't listen to RB as a position of need in the first round of the draft, maybe you can convince them to take a look at someone in the second?  And of course, I have a particular someone in mind:

Chris Johnson, RB East Carolina University
5'-11", 197lb, 4.24 40yd

Firstly, a comparison of Johnson and Bush (Stop it.  Your as bad as BBS) as well as some other insight, including "He's a Dungy/Polian type of guy," can be found at Stampede Blue.  And I am very sorry about the Adam Vinatieri picture.  Very, very sorry.

First, the obvious:  the dude is fast.  You don't have to know much about who ran what to know that 4.24 is  a good time in the 40, but you should also know that this number isn't going to pass by some scout's radars like it does with some fast players (i.e. Andre Hall).  Johnson was the fastest player at the combine.  He was, in fact the fastest player at the combine since they switched to electronic timing 9 years ago, tying WR Rondel Melendez from 1999.  The good news is that this is no workout warrior time:  he had no significant speed training prior to the combine.  He had run a 4.29 on his first run and declined to run again, happy with that time.  Until a friend from Florida started ribbing him about McFaddens time.  So he ran again, this time getting the 4.24.  "I knew I was fast, but I didn't realize I was that fast," he said at the time.

How about size?  Well he isn't very big, but to watch him, you only see this lack of size show up in one area of his running.  The leg churn you like to see out of a powerful runner isn't always present in his game.  His Junior season this was VERY noticeable, and it correlated directly to his pad level and a nagging turf toe injury.  Whenever his pads came up he got pounded back.  But one of the major pluses with this kid is how he responds to coaching, as his Senior year saw him run consistently with a low pad level, and he appeared to have noticeably more power.  The biggest highlight of this was seeing him bounce off of first tacklers, which is huge in Denver's scheme, where the RB is responsible for at least one guy.  This is all just a detailed way of saying "explosive in traffic" which really doesn't mean anything to me, since that was the case with Pintos too and I don't see anyone rushing out to get their hands on those.  I prefer to look at what makes him "explosive."

You like what you see when you look at him, and scouts are reporting that he could add 10 lbs easy and not see any kind of reduction in his speed.  He has a thick body that tapers like a steel spike and strong drive in his legs.  Again, his speed is obvious, and at ECU he showed not only the interest, but the discipline to learn several different positions, including HB, TB, flanker and WR.  He is a crisp routerunner and was utilized at ECU primarily on shallow crossing routes, sideline take-offs and out routes.  He would be a great gadget at WR, but he shines between the tackles, where he shows exceptional, and I mean exceptional, patience, taking full advantage of his explosiveness to hit the hole at exactly the right time.  He is trained in a one cut scheme and was described by his coaches as being "the most natural decision maker" at choosing a cutback lane that he had ever seen.

His courage between the tackles is evident as well and he displays that "Bronco-lean" that most of our hand-picked running backs seem to have, where they always seem to be falling forward (another reason I never liked T.Bell.  He never displayed this key characteristic).  His attitude suits our o-line scheme as well, not to mention the general feel of our locker room:  he is a leader by example, and a solid character.  He was considered a mentor to the younger players on the team and had ideal work habits.  His coaches commented after the season how much of a joy it was to coach him in practice, describing him as "all business, whether it was practice or gametime."

Another aspect that I like about his style compared to who we are fielding now is his ability to set up defenders on the second level.  While he is sudden getting through the line, where he is more inclined to push through or bounce off of his tackler, IMMEDIATELY upon reaching the second level, on every highlight play I have seen of his long runs (and there are many) he is setting up the secondary.  It is subtle and quick and creates angles for him that, though they will close quick in the NFL, should afford him the time he needs to switch to his next gear.  Which is ANOTHER thing you have to love about Johnson:  He has his running behind his blockers speed, his cutting through the hole speed, his hitting the second level speed, and above and beyond that he has yet another gear that makes that last 30 yds to the endzone seem more like 10.  I'm sure the NFL level of talent will do wonders to make him seem a little less freakish in this respect, but regardless of who you are playing, 30 yds is 30 yds.  When you average 10 yds a second you've got something special going on.

The last thing I want to discuss, before I leave you with a some numbers and a highlight clip to mull over, is his REAL talent, and what it all means to the Broncos and their #42 pick.  Explosiveness.  Incredible acceleration.  Impeccable timing on cutbacks, with precise burst.  Courage in traffic.  Patience behind blockers.  Great decision making.  You can see what I am getting at, right?  Let's add some history:  he has been returning kicks since high school.   He has produced as a KR every year, even when injured.  Remember the knock against Elvis Dumervil?  Too small, won't be durable in the NFL, physically won't match up against NFL level competition?  Almost completely overlooked was his consistent production, gaining more sacks every year, setting records in his last year.  The #1 knock against Johnson and the reason he will be picked somewhere around #44?  Too small, won't be durable enough.  Every year he climbed up the rankings for all-purpose yards.  As a senior he set records in that category.  Denver is sitting at #42 with plenty of options for upgrading that pick if they need to.  They need options at WR, KR, and depth at RB.  Consistent producers have been part of the hallmark of recent Denver drafts.  Cutler, Marshall, DOOM.  Johnson?

Courage and heart are lethal weapons.

Load up, Denver.

Stats and highlight video below the fold...

Some stats for your consideration

Highschool:  1000yd rusher, top weightlifter, top track athlete.

True Freshman:  1562 all purpose yds (142.0 avg/game)  Kick Returns:  37 for 765 yds (20.7yd avg),  Rushing 134 carries for 561 yds (4.2 yd avg), 5 TDs, Receiving:  32 for236 yds (7.6yd avg), 2 TDs.

Sophmore:  1586 all purpose yds (136.27 avg/game)  Kick Returns:  21 for 459 yds (21.9yd avg),  Rushing:  176 for 684 (3.9yd avg), 6 TDs, Receiving:  35 for 356 yds (10.2 yd avg), 2 TDs.

Junior:  Injury riddled season.  Played with turf toe and had neck surgery after the season. 5 starts and 7 limited action games.  972 all purpose yards (81avg/game).  Kick Returns:  21 for 482 yds (22.95yd avg), 1 TD, Rushing:  78 for 314yds (4.0yd avg), 4 TDs, Receiving:  21 for 176yds (8.4 avg).

Senior:  2960 all purpose yds (227.69avg/game),  Kick Returns: 36 for 1009 yds (28.0 yd avg), 1 TD, Rushing:  236 for 1423 yds (6yd avg), 17 TDs, Receiving:  37 for 528 yds (14.2yd avg), 6 TDs.

View video on Youtube here!