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All right, draftniks. You know that Pewter Report is the undisputed king of Tampa Bay Buccaneers draft coverage. We’ve listed players, such as defensive end Gaines Adams (2007), linebacker Quincy Black (2007), wide receiver Maurice Stovall (2006), quarterback Bruce Gradkowski (2006), middle linebacker Barrett Ruud (2005), cornerback Torrie Cox (2003) – among others, at their respective positions in the Bucs’ Best Bets sections of Pewter Report’s annual Bucs Draft Preview.
As the 2008 NFL Draft approaches, Pewter Report’s resident draft expert, Scott Reynolds, has spent countless hours watching over 12 college games per week and scouting which prospects would look good wearing red and pewter next year. With over 500 college games to review dating back over the last four years and countless scouting contacts throughout the NFL, Reynolds is armed with the inside scoop needed to put together these scouting reports on players who might fit Tampa Bay’s schemes on offense and defense.
The casual football fan already has a good deal of knowledge on likely first-round draft prospects, such as LSU defensive tackle Glen Dorsey, Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm and Virginia defensive end Chris Long. The goal of these regular Pewter Insider features on PewterReport.com is to inform you about players that will likely go in rounds 2-7 that might help the Buccaneers.
Will one of these players wind up being the next Ruud, Stovall or Gradkowski? We’ll all find out next April when Tampa Bay is on the clock.
EAST CAROLINA RB CHRIS JOHNSON VITAL STATS: East Carolina running back Chris Johnson, who is over 5-foot-10 and weighs 199 pounds, hails from Orlando, Fla. He has been timed as fast as 4.3 in the 40-yard dash by NFL scouts. Johnson started off his senior season slowly, but caught fire at the middle of the season and finished strong with 408 total yards in East Carolina’s upset of Boise State in the Aloha Bowl. Not only is he a big-play runner, he also has the ability to be a weapon out of the backfield and a real threat on kickoff returns in the NFL.
CREDENTIALS Johnson started seven games as a freshman in 2004, rushing for 561 yards and five touchdowns on 134 carries (4.2 avg.). He also caught 32 passes for 236 yards and two scores, while returning 37 kickoffs 765 yards (21.0 avg.).
Johnson started all 11 games in his sophomore season, rushing for 684 yards and six touchdowns on 176 carries (3.9 avg.) and catching 35 passes for 356 yards and two TDs. Johnson continued to return kicks with 459 yards on 21 attempts (21.8 avg.). After missing the spring with neck surgery, Johnson was limited to just five starts during his junior campaign. He rushed for 314 yards and four touchdowns on 78 carries (4.0 avg.) and hauled in 21 catches for 482 yards and a score in 2006. Johnson also returned 21 kickoffs 482 yards (22.9 avg.), including a 96-yard touchdown at Southern Miss.
Johnson has seen his draft stock explode after a stellar senior season in which he rushed for a career-high 1,423 yards and 17 touchdowns on 236 carries (6.0 avg.), while catching 37 passes for 528 yards and six scores. He also returned 36 kickoffs 1,009 yards (28.0 avg.) and scored a 100-yard touchdown against North Carolina State.
RECORDS AND SUPERLATIVES Johnson’s 125 catches for 1,296 yards and 10 touchdowns are all East Carolina University records for a running back.
In 2007, he led the nation in all-purpose yardage with 2,960 total yards, and with 408 all-purpose yards against Boise State in the 2007 Aloha Bowl, Johnson set a record for the most all-purpose yards in a bowl game.
Johnson was named the Conference USA Coaches Special Teams Player of the Year in 2007 as he led C-USA and ranked 15th in the nation in kickoff return average with a 28.5 average during the regular season. Johnson was also named to the Conference USA second-team at running back along with Houston’s Anthony Alridge.
He has recorded nine games with over 100 yards rushing, and has two more games with at least 90 yards rushing. Has one 100-yard receiving game.
HIS BIGGEST GAMES 11/3/07 at Memphis 20 carr. 301 yds. with 4 TDs, 2 rec. for 12 yds. 12/23/07 vs. Boise State 28 carr. 223 yds. with 1 TD, 3 rec. for 32 yds. and 1 TD 11/24/07 vs. Tulane 27 carr. 155 yds. with 2 TDs, 4 rec. for 85 yds. and 1 TD 9/29/07 at Houston 24 carr. 147 yds. with 2 TDs, 4 rec. for 24 yds. 11/19/05 at Marshall 18 carr. 106 yds. with 3 TDs, 1 rec. for 21 yds.
WHY HE COULD BE A RED AND PEWTER PLAYER Tampa Bay is looking for big-time playmakers on offense and head coach Jon Gruden always loves running backs with speed. If the Buccaneers don’t re-sign Michael Bennett, whose game resembles Johnson’s, the team could consider drafting him and pairing Johnson with Earnest Graham.
Johnson has a great set of hands and has averaged 31 receptions per season during his ECU career. Not only can he catch swing passes out of the backfield, he is also an accomplished route runner. He is so skilled as a receiver that as a junior, Johnson lined up outside as a slot receiver almost half of the time he was on the field.
Johnson’s speed and cutting ability really shine on screen passes. Gruden’s creative mind could find out ways to utilize this “Joker” on offense similar to how he used Bennett at the end of the season and how he used Michael Pittman throughout his Buccaneers career as a situational runner and a receiver.
While he is not a big guy, Johnson is compactly built and does not shy away from contact. He also has impressive agility and instant acceleration that allows him to leave defenders in the dust. Johnson is a threat to go the distance on every play.
TOUGHEST TRANSITION IN TAMPA BAY Johnson could use a bit more bulk as he isn’t even 200 pounds. He may not have the frame to become a wire-to-wire feature back in the NFL. It took a while for Johnson to get used to playing at the college level before a breakthrough senior season. That could happen at the next level, too.
Johnson’s biggest deficiency is his pass protection, which could cause the Buccaneers to pass over him as Jon Gruden puts a tremendous amount of emphasis on this area of a running back’s game. Johnson does not give maximum effort in the area of pass protection. He needs to show the willingness to take on blockers and be more aggressive.
SPECIAL TEAMS FACTOR The team that drafts Johnson will be getting a player who is capable of being a dangerous kick returner, evidenced by his two returns for touchdowns. Johnson’s speed could also be used on punt returns, although he did not handle those duties in college. The ECU star is a team player and should have no problem covering kicks or punts on special teams, either, and his 4.3 speed should make him one of the first players downfield on fourth downs.
DRAFT PROJECTION Johnson lost only one fumble as a senior and that helped his cause in the eyes of NFL scouts. Johnson had a very productive senior season with improved offensive line play, but he rushed for 1,000 yards only once in his career. There are some concerns about his size, but his blazing speed more than makes up for that. A time close to 4.3 or better would likely make him a second-round pick. Should Johnson run in the 4.4 range, he will likely be a third- or fourth-rounder.
NFL scouts will be watching how well he pass protects at the Senior Bowl and take that into consideration, too. A big week in Mobile, Ala. could really solidify him as a second-rounder.
THE QUOTE “It feels good to end my career like this. I wanted to come out here and show the country that I am the best back in the country,” Johnson said after his 408-yard effort against Boise State in the Aloha Bowl.
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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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