All 22: The Many Dimensions Of Kerryon Johnson
On paper, the Eagles suddenly have an embarrassment of riches at the running back position, with the addition of Kerryon Johnson. Given his pedigree and skill set, Johnson, 23, will likely be afforded every opportunity to seize the primary backup role.
The increased competition, which promises to be a core value under new head coach Nick Sirianni, would have been hard to fathom last offseason, when the depth chart seemed to be all but etched in stone.
Second-year pro Miles Sanders was expected to serve as the resident bell cow and appeared poised for stardom. The diminutive Boston Scott dazzled down the stretch to close out the 2019 season and the pecking order was affected as a result. Super Bowl hero Corey Clement, who remained on the open market until late April, returned on a modest 1-year deal to presumably undertake a short-yardage role.
But Sanders’ sophomore campaign was limited to just 12 games, which ultimately thrust Scott into a role for which he wasn’t ideally suited. As for Clement, though he appeared in 15 games, the Glassboro, N.J., native was virtually a non-factor in the running game, yielding 21 carries for 75 yards. The glaring absence of a dynamic second option behind Sanders eliminated a crucial dimension to the offense.
But history isn’t likely to repeat, as the current running back stable features a plethora of tantalizing options.
As for Johnson, it wasn’t long ago that the former 43rd overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft was regarded as an ascending talent. However, multiple knee injuries, coupled with a crowded backfield in Detroit, prompted the Lions to part ways with the fourth-year pro.
The 5-foot-11, 211-pounder appeared in 34 career games with the Lions, totaling 283 carries for 1,225 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground, while adding 61 receptions for 527 yards and three touchdowns as a receiver.
Though injuries have restricted his burst and explosion, Johnson fits the bill as a tough, downhill runner who can pass protect and provide a reliable set of hands out of the backfield. Johnson wouldn’t be asked to shoulder a sizable role with the Eagles but would be an ideal fit in a complementary capacity. If he can remain healthy and regain his footing this summer, he’ll edge out Jordan Howard on upside alone.
Let’s check out Johnson’s All-22 tape to see what he brings to the Eagles' backfield.
While injuries have diminished Johnson's dynamic traits as a runner, he remains an above-average pass protector. Watch him take on the blitzer in this 2020 game against the Cards.
As the Cardinals attempted to bear down on quarterback Matt Stafford, Johnson met a blitzing Jordan Hicks (58) in the hole and stonewalled the former Eagles linebacker at the point of attack. The pass over the middle to Danny Amendola ultimately falls incomplete, but Johnson provided the necessary time.
Here's an even closer look from the end zone camera, showing Johnson maintain good pad level against Hicks and anchor:
This next clip highlights another facet of Johnson's game that gives him a leg up in the backup running back battle – good hands out of the backfield.
Johnson demonstrates his pass-catching prowess here, reeling in a Stafford throw on a wheel route in stride for a 14-yard pickup.
Earlier, I highlighted a play against Arizona where Johnson picked up a blitzing linebacker, allowing the play to get off. Let's look at another example of his pass pro:
There, Johnson did a nice job initiating contact with linebacker Nate Hall (48).The end zone angle shows Johnson correctly scanning the defense to find the looping Hall and using his feet to quickly get into a good blocking position.
But Hall, who actually only outweighs Johnson by 13 pounds, absorbed the block and continued to pursue Stafford down the line. Johnson was caught off balance and tried to reach, but Hall finished the play by bringing down Stafford for a 4-yard loss.
For the next clip, I dig deep into the archives and watched a game that showcased how explosive Johnson was before his injury. Watch this burst:
Here, he demonstrated decisiveness as he took the snap and followed the block of his pulling LG Frank Ragnow (77), ripping through the Miami defense for a 71-yard run to start the second half as if he was shot from a cannon.
The end zone angle shows Johnson's burst through the hole.
One the qualities that should keep Johnson in the running for the power back role with the Eagles is his contact balance when navigating through traffic. Here's an example from a game against the Dolphins, with a big run after the catch:
Here's a closer view of the catch and run:
After fielding the short toss from Stafford, Johnson quickly got north-south to maximize his yardage. He greeted Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonzo (47) with a jarring stiff arm as he finished the play.
The ability to see and hit the hole, catch the ball, and stay balanced after contact should help Johnson win a spot on the 53-man roster if he can stay healthy this summer.
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
Catch Brian Westbrook's viewpoint on Johnson and the Eagles' running backs stable here:
Or watch on YouTube: