At one point this offseason, there was chatter about running back Ryan Williams winning the Dallas Cowboys' running back job outright. The former highly-touted draft pick found himself back in the training room following the Cowboys' spring practices. He experienced swelling in his knee, was forced to undergo another knee procedure, and now the Cowboys have decided to move on from the oft-injured back.
The Cowboys deemed that they simply didn't have the patience to wait for Williams to recover from another setback to his troublesome knee. In his place, they signed running back Gus Johnson to the 90-man roster, and they are likely to give him a real shot to make a name for himself in training camp.
Johnson is a raw prospect and an undrafted free agent out of Stephen F. Austin. The last time you heard the name Stephen F. Austin, you were probably filling out your March Madness brackets, but don't let the small school deter you from getting excited about Johnson. He was the 2014 Southland Conference Player of the Year after rushing for 1,683 yards and 23 touchdowns on 256 carries. Over the course of his collegiate career, Johnson averaged 6.2 yards per carry and finished with 51 rushing touchdowns and 3,892 rushing yards.
There is reason to believe that Johnson could be even better at the next level. At 5-foot-10 and 215 pounds, he has the ideal build for a running back--low to the ground and big enough to mix it up between the tackles.
His disappointing 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine was well documented, and might have caused him to go undrafted, but he fixed that at his pro day when he ran a 4.62 and 4.62 40-yard dash. These numbers aren't considered strong, but keep in mind that many analysts are coming around to the notion that the 40-yard dash is an overrated measurement for running backs.
When it comes to burst and athleticism, measurements that can better predict how a running back will succeed between the tackles at the next level, Johnson can hold his own. His 36.5-inch vertical and 10" broad jump are impressive numbers for any running back, especially one of his build. Johnson also put on paper a 7.09-second three-cone drill--showing off an impressive amount of lateral agility for a back with his build.
According to his NFL.com draft profile authored by Lance Zierlien, Johnson is a "well-built with thick bubble and powerful legs. Shows necessary power to rip through arm tackles and churn out additional yardage after contact. Has delayed burst once he gets to second level. Bow-legged runner with wide base and adequate balance through contact. What he lacks in explosiveness he makes up for in grit. Produced at consistent level over last three seasons."
Power to rip through tackles and churn out yards after contact sounds like a big portion of what made DeMarco Murray so successful in 2014. According to Pro Football Focus, Murray led the NFL in yards after contact with 998.
The Cowboys need a running back who can create yards after contact behind their predominantly power-based blocking scheme. Johnson is still a bit of a long shot to make the final 53-man roster, but he is definitely someone to keep an eye on throughout training camp. Things could move fast for him given the competition ahead of him on the Cowboys' depth chart at running back.