MI RB Drake Johnson, listed as 6'1, 205ish, committed to Michigan on November 8th, shortly after receiving his Michigan offer. The timing puzzled some Michigan fans, as the coaching staff was still hot in pursuit of Ohio State commit Brionte Dunn, and it was a time when things seemed somewhat optimistic. Johnson had also not made much movement in his recruitment, and was not coming off some huge camp as some other under-the-radar types (such as Channing Stribling or C'Sonte York) do to earn surprising offers. Still, the staff found him deserving of an offer he quickly accepted.
Johnson doesn't have quite the recruiting tale of Norfleet or other members of the 2012 class. During the summer before his junior season, he was hearing from a lot of B1G schools including Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Michigan. None would offer besides Eastern Michigan and Ron English, however. He unofficially visited Michigan several times (an easy task, considering he goes to school across from the Big House), and committed shortly after receiving his offer. Of note- Johnson is also a big track guy, and could potentially have received college interest in that field. Some notable times, from his Scout page:
55m hurdles - 7.76, set AAU Indoor National Record.
60m hurdles - 8.09, ranked in top ten in the country, indoor 2010
110m hurdles - 14.16, fastest freshman time run in the country.
Placed 3rd at MHSAA Outdoor State Championships. Highest place for freshman hurdler in Michigan ever.
So just as we know that Dennis Norfleet is a shifty scat-back, we know Johnson is fast. Carlos Brown was fast, too. Will Johnson trip over small pockets of air as Brown was famous for? At his current size, Johnson is very similar in stature to Brown as he was leaving Michigan (about 6', 205). However, when Johnson gets into a collegiate S&C program, the coaches will likely want him up to the 215-220 range. Still, 205 is a good starting weight for a freshman. Due to his relatively low ceiling, I think Johnson might have foregone a redshirt in years past. This year, however, (barring some injury to Thomas Rawls *knocks on wood*) depth at the tailback position should be plentiful enough for Johnson to take a year getting his weight up and working on the practice squad.
If you're just looking at his measurables, you might be wondering why his ceiling is low. 6'1, 205 pounds and he runs a 4.4 forty? Well, when breaking down his highlight tape, you notice several...mitigating factors. It's been noted by just about everyone and their mother that Johnson lacks great agility and explosion. There are examples of this sometimes being a result of poor conditioning, but as a track runner, I highly doubt that's the case with Johnson. His career is seemingly destined to be chock full of spot duty and breakout games against Eastern Michigan.
With that in mind, my next paragraph should be fairly predictable-his path to playing time. In the next year or two, there will be a battle to replace Fitzgerald Toussaint as the feature back. At the moment, it seems as though Thomas Rawls has a good handle on that duty. Behind him, Johnson will have to vie with fellow freshman Dennis Norfleet (sorta), Justice Hayes (sorta), and '13 commits Wyatt Shallman and Deveon Smith (and Derrick Green? We shall see). If there's something that Johnson will hold over the other three big backs (Rawls, Smith, and Shallman), it's his speed. If he never wins the starting job, he still seems like a good kid who sincerely loves the University. He'll stick around, contribute in back-up situations and on special teams, and get a Michigan degree. Not a bad deal.
So there you have it folks. Johnson isn't quite as explosive as fellow freshman RB Dennis Norfleet, but could still have an elongated career of occasional effectiveness. His upside may be low, but his speed will always be an asset for the team.
"Drake Johnson from Ann Arbor Pioneer, again, is a guy who's had tremendous numbers. He's a bigger back. He'll be a 215-pound back, probably, 220. He is a physical runner, and really (good) hand-eye skills, catching the football. We had him at camp and got to really test him in some of those areas. In the offense, you've got to have backs who are big enough to protect and big enough and good enough from an athletic standpoint to catch the ball out of the backfield. We really like what Drake does."
"Guys from Penn State and guys from Michigan State, I know those guys wanted to offer him (Johnson.) They knew that kid was going to come to Michigan," Jackson recalled. "They are not going to offer Drake Johnson when they know I am recruiting him."
"I love the kid. I have seen the kid run track, hurdles, sprints, football, and I told him what he needed to do as a senior and he did it," Jackson said.