The University of Texas had one of the best kinds of problems in 2022. Not only did they have one of the best running backs in the country, but they also had starting caliber depth behind him.
There are only so many offensive snaps in a game, and that made finding touches for Roschon Johnson a struggle.
But that could make Johnson one of the great hidden gems of the 2023 NFL Draft. And as it so happens, the New York Giants could be in need of a running back to add to their offense in the coming year. The Giants probably can’t justify using a high pick on a running back, but Johnson’s lack of tape as a ball carrier could make him a great value in the mid-rounds.
Could Texas’ “other” running back be an asset catch Joe Schoen’s eye?
Games Played: 47
Yards (YPC): 2,190 (5.6 per carry)
Yards (YPC): 420 (7.5 per catch)
Total Touchdowns (rushing/receiving): 26 (23 rushing, 3 receiving)
Games Played: 12
Yards (YPC): 554 (6.0 per carry)
Yards (YPC): 128 (9.1 per catch)
Total Touchdowns (rushing/receiving): 6 (5 rushing, 1 receiving)
Best: Size, acceleration, speed, play strength, receiving ability, blocking, competitive toughness
Worst: Decisiveness, cut-back ability, balance recovery
Projection: An important and high-volume role player in an active running back rotation
(Johnson is Texas RB number 2)
Roschon Johnson is a big, strong, fast, and versatile running back from the University of Texas.
Johnson has great size for the position at 6-foot, 225 pounds. He played a wide variety of roles for the Longhorns, lining up as a runner out of the “I”, shotgun, and pistol formations. He also aligned in the backfield in multiple running back “pony” 12-personnel packages, as a wildcat quarterback, and was even split out as a wide receiver.
Johnson is a powerful one-cut runner who has great burst through the line of scrimmage and the speed to pick up chunk yardage once he reaches the second level. He is also a very powerful runner who can be very difficult to bring down once he is able to square his pads and run downhill. Johnson shows solid vision and anticipation on downhill runs and is at his best in power running schemes.
He was frequently used in passing situations, both as a pass protector and as a pass catcher. Johnson is a good receiving running back who does a good job of presenting a clear target for his quarterback, framing the pass, and plucking it out of the air as a “hands” catcher. He has a solid catch radius and has flashed the ability to make very high-difficulty catches and bail out his quarterback when he makes inaccurate throws.
Johnson was a low volume player for Texas, with just 456 total touches (rushing, receiving, and as a returner) despite appearing in 47 games in his four years on campus. Despite the low volume of touches, Johnson frequently appeared in Texas’ offense and played a relatively high number of snaps. In addition to his aforementioned role as a wildcat quarterback – which involved distributing the ball in read-option plays – Johnson was also frequently used as a blocker for his teammates and as a decoy on misdirection plays.
He is a capable blocker, both in pass protection and as a lead blocker out of 21-personnel packages. Johnson is willing and uses his size well when dealing with bigger pass rushers. While he doesn’t stonewall opposing defenders, he does a good job of losing slowly enough to allow his quarterback time to survey the field. He is aggressive when asked to lead block and does a reasonable imitation of a fullback for his teammates.
Johnson’s low volume as a runner may have contributed to one of his weaknesses on tape. He was prone to indecision as a runner when his initial running lane was taken away by the defense. In those instances, he would churn his feet behind the line of scrimmage instead of committing to a cut-back lane and picking up what he could. He is a patient runner behind the line of scrimmage, but doesn’t consistently attack rushing lanes with the same aggression as he does defenders as a blocker.
He also has inconsistent contact balance. While his size and power allow him to run through incidental contact without much issue, he struggles to recover when he stumbles. Johnson can attempt to continue to run, but he is often only able to pick up a couple yards once his stride is disrupted.
Johnson suffered a broken hand in practice prior to the Senior Bowl. NFL teams will likely want to do their due diligence on the injury, particularly if it impacts his ability to work out later in the draft process.
Overall Grade: 7.5
Johnson projects as an important running back in an active rotation.
He has a well-rounded skill set to go with a great blend of size and speed. He doesn’t quite have the agility to be truly scheme-diverse, but Johnson could have starting upside in an offense that primarily uses downhill runs out of man-gap or inside zone blocking schemes. As things stand now, Johnson should see the field early as a third down back. His ability as a pass catcher and pass protector will be prized by a modern offense, even if he doesn’t have the agility normally associated with 3rd down backs.
He also offers upside for an offense that’s willing to use two running backs in 21-personnel packages or wildcat plays, as well as an option in the return game.
Johnson’s lack of contact balance and moments of indecision can make him frustrating as a runner. He is tripped up a little too easily round the line of scrimmage, and there are times when he can dance behind the line of scrimmage and give the defense time to rally to the ball. It’s possible that those can be improved with time and coaching, but they’re definite weaknesses as a prospect.
Given the depth of Texas’ running back room, it’s understandable that Johnson didn’t see a high volume of touches. It’s difficult to justify having a back-up carry the ball when you have (arguably) the best runner in the country as your starter.
That could, however, be a boon for whichever team selects Johnson. He has relatively little wear and tear on his body, and his athletic skill set suggests significant upside if he’s able to get into a rhythm as a runner. Johnson’s limited exposure as a ball carrier could cause him to fall in the draft, but that could just make him a great value.