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Kerryon Johnson Draft Preview

There’ll be peace when you are gone

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

I am always excited to see Auburn players get a chance to live their dreams and make NFL money. Especially for runningbacks, whose NFL careers are shorter than a honeybees lifespan (see Irons, Kenny), it seems obvious to take your shot of making the big bucks when you get it. That said, there has seldom been an Auburn player leave before his senior season who I will miss more than Kerron Johnson.

Johnson was everything for the Tigers this season. His tweets were fire, he was an excellent passblocker, and he made the wildcat look like a guaranteed touchdown. He was the total package.

Where will Kerryon Johnson be drafted later this month?

Who is Kerryon Johnson’s natural comparison at the next level?

First, let’s just remember the good times he gave us.

Love you KJ.

Remember how every time he carried the ball last season, Gary Danielson mentioned Le’Veon Bell? Or is that just the way it seemed to me. Kerryon would get a three yard gain on third and one in the first quarter of a game, and all the sudden we would hear about Le’Veon Bell for twenty minutes. It’s a natural comparison, but only because both runners utilize patience to a staggering extent and seem to have a knack for getting at least one yard on every play. KJ rarely, if ever, lost yards this season because of a mistake he made. Statistically, however, the comparison is very favorable for Johnson. Kerryon had a better season this past year than Le’Veon Bell ever did in college. Last year, Kerryon had 309 touches and accounted for 1585 yards and 20 touchdowns. In Le’Veon Bell’s best season at Michigan State, he had 414 touches and accounted for 1960 yards and 13 touchdowns. That’s seven more touchdowns on over a hundred fewer touches. Sure, Bell had more yards, but he got the ball every play!

From a playing style standpoint, the comparison is definitely there, but from a productivity standpoint, Kerryon Johnson’s nose for the endzone is unparalleled by Bell. Were a lot of KJ21’s touchdowns from short yardage? Yeah. So? The scoreboard doesn’t care where you score from, only that you score. Kerryon was a sure thing from inside the five yard line, a place that a lot of teams struggle to run the ball. If Auburn needed a score, and the ball was on the opposing 3 yard line, Johnson was nails. If I’m an NFL team, I would love to know I have a guaranteed score on my roster.

A better comparison for the year Johnson had might be the 1999 season by another #21, though at the time LaDanian Tomlinson wore #5 for the TCU Horned Frogs. LT touched the ball 320 times in 1999 and accounted for a ridiculous 2058 yards and 20 touchdowns. This was LT’s junior season, when everyone knew he was the only threat the Frogs had. Johnson put up the same number of touchdowns on a similar amount of touches as one of the greatest college runningbacks who ever played the game. A first ballot NFL Hall of Famer, Tomlinson was a sure fire, can’t miss first round draft pick coming out of Fort Worth.

So why is no one talking about Kerryon Johnson in the first round?

The game has changed. Runningbacks are extremely expendable these days. Very few runningbacks are being taken in the first round at all and the ones who are taken that early are a different style of runner. Leonard Fournette and Ezekiel Elliot were both more “durable” runningbacks coming out of college, which really means they had stockier, stronger frames than Kerryon. I’m convinced if KJ was about ten pounds heavier and hadn’t gotten hurt in the Alabama game, he would be a late first rounder.

As it stands, I could see a team taking a chance on him at the very end of the first round, but I’m more inclined to think of him as a second or third round pick. Whatever team drafts him, Kerryon will be a great pro. He pass blocks well, he seldom makes mistakes on plays, and he finds yards and open space.

Will KJ be the next LT or Le’Veon Bell? There’s no way to know and anyone who tells you they can predict an NFL player’s future is lying to you. I’d love to see Johnson go to a team with another workhorse back, like the Cowboys. In that situation, Kerryon could come in and dominate against worn-down defenses with his mix of patience and speed.