2012 Pflugerville Hendrickson athlete and current TCU commit Daje Johnson drew attention from recruitniks across the country in early July when he broke the all-time SPARQ rating record at The Opening in Beaverton, Oregon. Since then, the lack of contact from Texas was a bit perplexing, especially considering the need for an all-purpose back/defensive back.
That all changed Saturday morning when Bryan Harsin phoned Johnson to let him know that the Texas co-offensive coordinator and Austin-area recruiter wanted to meet with him Monday evening, though it did not sound like an offer would necessarily be forthcoming from Texas during the meeting. In terms of connections to Texas, besides being from the area, Johnson's father Clyde, an NFL cornerback, was college roommates with Longhorn wide receivers coach Darrell Wyatt, only further confirming that Wyatt knows virtually everyone.
The early word is that Texas could be looking at Johnson in the same all-purpose back/defensive back role envisioned with OU commit, who has not particularly reciprocated the interest Texas showed him with an offer earlier this summer. For his part, Johnson has indicated in the past that he sees his NFL future at defensive back, but like many future defensive backs who excel with the ball in their hands in high school, it's not easy to give up those opportunities to tote the rock.
If Texas does offer, the general consensus at this point, from both the Texas and TCU perspectives, seems to be that the Longhorns would have a strong chance at flipping Johnson, despite public comments that he's a solid TCU commitment. At the least, the odds of receiving a commitment from Johnson seem much higher than they ever did with Brooks.
Back to that SPARQ rating for a second to further establish Johnson's resume. It's a measurement used by Nike in camps across the country, combining a player's 40 time, shuttle time, powerball toss, and vertical leap. Essentially, it's just a pure measure of a player's athleticism with the strength aspect thrown in with the powerball toss. Johnson's blazing 40 time of 4.34, shuttle of 4.01, powerball toss of 45, and 40.8-inch vertical added up to an eye-popping SPARQ rating of 146.52. And no, that was not a typo earlier -- it's the all-time record since Nike developed the measurement.
Of course, players with outstanding athleticism can't always turn that production into field, something that's hardly a problem for the extremely explosive Johnson, who has somehow still managed to fly somewhat under the radar despite his performance at The Opening and a strong start to his senior season with nearly one thousand yards rushing and nine touchdowns at well more than 10 yards per carry.
Given the relatively out-of-the-blue contact from Harsin Saturday morning, it was somewhat ironic that I had made my way out to Pflugerville the night before to catch the Hawks take on the Elgin Wildcats. Chalk the visit up mostly to the relative dearth of appealing games in the Austin area this year, but also to my desire to see Johnson's explosiveness in person. While it's difficult to project many elements that make up a successful defensive back watching a player on offense, I at least wanted to leave with a better feeling for Johnson's pure running back skills.
Through the first part of the game, those running back skills left me decidedly non-plussed. The fact that Johnson didn't see the ball on offense through the first quarter and only returned punts didn't help. Possible disciplinary action by the coaching staff? Hard to say, but it didn't make much sense.
When Johnson finally did get the ball starting in the second quarter, the results were not immediately impressive. The Hawks aren't much of a passing team, completing only two on the evening -- and the Wildcats decided to load up the box in an effort to keep Johnson in check, a strategy that was effective for much of the game, as Johnson is not the type of player who can maximize runs after contact in traffic, but then, that's why he's projected as an all-purpose back if he sees time on offense in college and not a pure, between-the-tackles load back.
To expound on that point, Johnson has the build of a cornerback rather than a running back at a lean, but not skinny 5-10, 185 pounds, with the 5-10 listing appearing legitimate. He doesn't run behind his pads particularly well and wasn't successful at moving the pile in between the tackles.
It was on a punt return late in the game that Johnson really flashed as Hendrick tried to hold off a scrappy Elgin squad that didn't ever appear ready to give up despite barely hanging on through most of the late third quarter and into the fourth. See it for yourself:
Daje Johnson Punt Return (via GhostofBigRoy84)
Nice vision from Johnson attacking the middle of the punt coverage for Elgin and showing off his insane acceleration by planting his foot and seemingly reaching top speed in about a heartbeat. At that point, there just wasn't anyone on the Elgin team capable of taking an angle to stop him.
Despite skepticism earlier in the game about Johnson's pure running back ability, this play shows the type of feel for the position that could and should translate well to the college game:
Daje Johnson Touchdown Run Versus Elgin (via GhostofBigRoy84)
Notice how Johnson gives his offensive lineman a chance to make a block and showing some patience, then finding a seam, allowing another block to happen, then bursting upfield and outrunning two players who looked like they had a strong shot of at least making some contact with Johnson. Except for the fact that they were completely outclassed athleticially.
Near the end of the game, Johnson broke off another long run that I missed on film that should have been a touchdown had he not been whistled for what appeared to be a taunting personal foul before making it to the end zone and then picking up what was definitely a personal foul for taunting and being ejected. Though the first call looked questionable -- it might have been something that he said -- the second was certainly warranted and both hurt his team, as the touchdown would have iced the game.
Disappointing behavior certainly, but not enough to raise serious red flags. For the purposes of this evaluation, his 17 carries for 296 yards and a touchdown, as well as the punt return touchdown, were enough to suitably impress this recruitnik. As mentioned earlier, that production came in less than three quarters of action on offense and
For a guy who didn't always look comfortable during the game running between the tackles, the fact that Johnson doesn't simply try to bounce everything outside is promising when projecting him to college. He understands that he's fast enough that he doesn't need the sideline to blow up angles. That won't always be the case in college, but at least he won't have to break bad habits and showed a combination of patience and an ability to stick his foot in the ground and go, a necessary trait for a guy who would mostly operate either in the zone running game or on jet sweeps if he ends up at Texas.
All in all, Johnson's pure athleticism and some evidence of a running back's skillset make him a more attractive option than Brooks because of his advantage in size and strength over the OU commit and those athletic tools make it easy to envision him as a defensive back with a great deal of upside. As far as an offer from Texas, I'm all for it, as Johnson is one of the most explosive players in the state in his class and if that isn't enough to earn an offer from Texas when combined with his NFL pedigree, what is enough to earn a Texas offer?
I'm down for some Daje Johnson in burnt orange. Are you?