Name: Daje Johnson
School: Pflugerville Hendrickson
Ranking (Rivals): Four out of five (5.8)
- Texas (committed 1/27/2012)
- Iowa State
- Kansas State
- New Mexico
- Texas A&M
- Texas Tech
Perhaps it was simply a result of the coaching changes that allowed a guy like Dalton Santos to slip through the cracks, but it was a bit surprising that local product Daje Johnson flew so long under the radar despite a productive junior season that saw him gain nearly 800 yards on the ground and demonstrate his versatility by making some plays on defense as well.
Perhaps Johnson was simply overshadowed by his star teammate, current Texas Tech running back Kenny Williams, who had a strong season of his own in his final year in P-ville. Whatever happened exactly, Johnson didn't register with Texas recruitniks until the TCU commit set the national SPARQ record at The Opening. Check out these numbers:
- 4.34 40
- 4.01 shuttle
- 40.8-inch vertical
- 45-foot powerball toss
- Overall SPARQ rating of 146.5
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 Daniel Brooks, 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.
Even at that time, the buzz surrounding Johnson indicated that he was likely to flip to Texas if the Longhorns offered. To demonstrate his interest, Johnson made numerous unofficial visits to campus for home games during the fall, but for whatever reason, perhaps tight scholarship numbers, the staff fell out of contact with Johnson and it appeared that both sides had moved on.
It wasn't until about two weeks ago that the staff again got in contact with the speedy athlete to invite him in for an official visit the last weekend before Signing Day, but it wasn't clear how interested Johnson was, as he seemed to doubt the sincerity of the interest from Texas after the long period without contact. He did, however, agree to take the official visit.
Then, about a week later, Johnson tweeted out that he was "staying with TCU," apparently ending his recruitment by the Longhorns. But Major Applewhite gave him a call that evening and was able to assuage some of his concerns, particularly about the issue of early playing time and the serious nature of the interest in Johnson.
By the end of that week, Johnson indicated to the recruiting services that he was "about 90% sure" that he would commit to Texas on his official visit and did indeed pull the trigger that Saturday before joining the US team on Sunday in preparation for the International Bowl.
Johnson had this to say before his visit:
I had told myself if I had an opportunity to go to Texas, I would go to Texas. That's why I decided to give them another chance. I feel like that is where my heart is. If I'm be happier with Texas, then I'll switch.
Following his commitment, Johnson echoed those comments ($):
Texas, I've wanted to go there for a while. I just feel like it's where my heart is. I feel like there's nothing wrong with going with your hear. I just wanted to be a Longhorn.
Lucky for Texas.
From the Elgin game in 2011:
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 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?
ESPN evaluation ($):
Johnson could be one of the more underrated backs this class has to offer with his terrific blend of speed, agility and explosive second gear he is a homerun threat waiting to happen. He is slightly undersized as far as fulltime backs go, but has a muscular, wiry frame and his build could land him as a cornerback candidate as his skill set is tailor made for the position. In this offense he is a scatback type in a scheme that features some downhill snaps and he will surprise you with his toughness in-line. He's very sudden and shifty through traffic. Hits cutback creases decisively, losing very little in transition. Changes gears well, picking and darting through the line, but he's at his best planting and accelerating downhill just as the hole opens. Has excellent vision, body control and balance. Shows the lateral quickness and speed to bounce outside and turn the corner up the sideline. Has good top-end speed at the second level and a sneaky extra gear to separate from faster defensive backs. He can make a defender miss with a sharp, full speed cuts. Avoids dancing and looks for the shortest distance to the goal line on every carry. His hands could use some polish out of the backfield, does not look yet to be a natural plucker. His lack of bulk is a concern. Has a lean, light build and runs a bit high, without great body tilt. May have trouble producing consistent yards after contact and holding up while running between the tackles in college. Still, Johnson rarely gives defenders a clean shot and he has the frame to continue developing physically. He has all the tools to develop into a highly productive college back. If he were employed in the spread with a zone blocking scheme he can really give opposing teams problems. Reminds us a little of LaMichael James.
Daje Johnson Sr. Highlights (via 247SportsStudio)
Johnson will bring more versatility to the table than DJ Monroe, as he's a better receiver and a more complete runner, able to jump to slide cut to avoid defenders -- he's slippery and runs hard. Projecting a lot of broken tackles at the next level may be a stretch, but like Monroe, Johnson will maximize his runs to the extent possible. If things don't work out for Johnson as an all-purpose back, he has all the tools to be a special defensive back with his combination of stop/start acceleration and top-end speed.
As the film above reveals, Johnson is also effective on special teams and could eventually return punts and/or kicks while wearing burnt orange.