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Auburn RB Kerryon Johnson is a sleeper in this year’s NFL Draft

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The Auburn product could be a great fit for a physical team in the AFC North.

SEC Championship - Auburn v Georgia Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

When looking at running backs going into the 2018 NFL Draft, Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson has seemed to be overlooked by analysts and fans alike. Saquon Barkley, Derrius Guice, Sony Michel, Rashaad Penny, Ronald Jones and others have been talked about ad nauseam throughout the NFL Scouting Combine. Johnson, on the other hand, has flown under the radar. So what’s the big deal with the Auburn prospect?

Johnson is listed at 5’11, 212 lbs. and is a powerful, yet patient runner. His ability to cut through small holes and still use his burst to find extra yardage is an important trait for an NFL running back. His ability has been lauded by Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com.

“Quick decision-maker, Brugler wrote. Flexible joints and keeps his balance well to work off tackle attempts. Lateral movement skills to create off-balance tackle attempts. Long strides to accelerate once he finds a sliver of daylight. Strong foundation as a runner.”

In 36 games with the Auburn Tigers, Johnson totaled 519 rushing attempts, for 2,494 yards (averaging 4.8 yards per carry) and 32 touchdowns. In his junior season, Johnson was also able to catch 24 passes, for 194 yards (8.1 yards per catch) and two touchdowns. As a running back in today’s NFL, it is extremely important to have receiving skills out of the backfield, especially playing for the Baltimore Ravens.

Here is Johnson’s game against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Iron Bowl:

In this game, Johnson had to fight through injury and was able to stay on the field to finish with 30 carries, for 104 rushing yards and one touchdown. He also had a passing touchdown in the “Wildcat” formation. Another area where Johnson showed up was in pass blocking, where he often gave quarterback Jarrett Stidham more time to complete a pass downfield. He did let Minkah Fitzpatrick off of the edge on one play at 3:11.

However, his game also had some flaws too. In some of these plays, Johnson ran high, leaving himself open for big hits. He also seemed to turn around instead of fighting for extra yardage up the field. This game is a perfect example of Johnson’s pros and cons as an NFL Draft prospect.

Brugler also listed Johnson’s areas of improvement in his scouting report.

“Runs erect and doesn’t consistently drop his hips to generate burst,” wrote Brugler. “Not the most graceful runner in tight spaces. Doesn’t consistently lower his pads, exposing his body and the ball. Holds the ball loose and needs to improve his security (despite only three fumbles at Auburn).”

For the most part, these are fixable problems. The Ravens assisted running back Alex Collins with his fumbling issues. Though Johnson hasn’t fumbled in an NFL game and didn’t have fumbling issues in college, he could always improve this area by holding the ball tighter and lower. In Collins’ case, he fumbled four times, but he was still able to carry the ball 212 times, for 973 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and six touchdowns in 2017.

The Ravens will most likely go into the 2018 season with Collins, Buck Allen and Kenneth Dixon as their running backs. If Baltimore were to select Johnson in the second (where Brugler projected him) or later, they will add a running back that has very few flaws in his game and can provide a physical presence in the AFC North.