Grading the Detroit Lions 2018 draft class way too soon

SAN DIEGO, CA - NOVEMBER 18: Nick Bawden
SAN DIEGO, CA - NOVEMBER 18: Nick Bawden /
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Kerryon Johnson A+

When the Seattle Seahawks kicked off a run of backs in the late first and early second round, the Lions could easily have been the odd team out at pick 51. Bob Quinn used his connection to the New England Patriots to move up the board and get his man. Quinn gave up the team’s fourth-round pick to climb eight spots. Kerryon Johnson was, without a doubt, worth the price of admission.

Johnson 115.9 rushing yards per game ranked ninth among power five programs. He personally scored 18 touchdowns on the ground. That is more than 46 FBS teams scored in 2017. He led the SEC in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. He was First Team All-SEC and the SEC Offensive player of the year last season.

Lions fans that began the offseason hoping for a Le’Veon Bell signing should be excited for Johnson’s arrival. Johnson shares the traits of patience, timing, and vision that make Bell the best running back in the game. Johnson has elite spacial awareness and second level vision. He allows his blocker to take a man before blasting past the battle as it rages. Johnson also uses feints to lure linebackers into incorrect gaps before making his decisive cut. He does all of that without losing speed or wasting time.

Johnson is a willing and capable pass blocker and a sure-handed receiver out of the backfield. In open space, he uses his lateral movement to create arm tackles and his size to rip through them. At 213 lbs, he is no mere scat back. He runs with power as well as grace and quickness. He does not shy away from dropping his shoulder to pick up tough yardage, but he does not seek contact when it is not necessary.

Johnson is a tough man. Johnson does have an injury history that causes concern. However, he plays through injuries, and he does so while maintaining a high level of performance. He had problems with both shoulders in high school. Johnson left the Alabama game in November with another shoulder injury, in addition to concerns over his ribs. He also missed two games in 2017 with a hamstring injury.

Johnson was the last of the elite running back prospects available in the draft without character concerns. Bob Quinn recognized the position group as a weakness this offseason, and Johnson is the perfect complement to the players that are already in the room. He is more physical than Ameer Abdullah or Theo Riddick, and more athletic than LeGarrette Blount.