Lions trade up, grab 'patient' Auburn RB Kerryon Johnson

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson, left, led the SEC in rushing with 115.9 yards per game last season.

Allen Park — Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn played it coy heading into the 2018 NFL Draft, saying he felt his team had enough running backs to be competitive. But Quinn clearly felt the need to add another option from the deep pool of talented prospects at the top of this year’s class.

He found his man in the second round, trading up eight spots to snag Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson at No. 43 overall.

Despite entering the draft with six picks, tied for the fewest in the league, Detroit packaged its original second-round choice (No. 51) along with their fourth-round pick (No. 117) to the New England Patriots to make the move up the board.

Measuring in at 6-feet, 213 pounds, Johnson rushed for 1,391 yards (4.9 yards per carry) and 18 touchdowns for the Tigers last season. He also added 24 catches for 309 yards and two more scores. An aggressive runner, he broke 50 tackles on 285 carries, according to Pro Football Focus.

More: Wojo: Quinn’s bold move pays with dashing RB Johnson

Johnson’s patient running style has drawn comparisons to Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro Le’Veon Bell.

“I think every running back is supposed to be patient,” Johnson said during a conference call. “That’s how lanes develop, that’s how linemen get to their blocks, that’s how yards through them. I try to be patient until I see the how and I go through. That’s the way I learned running is the best. That’s what running backs are supposed to do, I feel."

The biggest concern with Johnson is his durability. He's had a pair of shoulder surgeries and also missed time with ankle, hamstring and rib injuries while at Auburn.

“He’ll hold up,” Quinn said. “He’s a guy that they (Auburn) run inside the tackles primarily in that offense, if you know (coach) Gus Malzahn’s offense. They basically run between the guards, so I think this guy’s very versatile that he can run inside, but I think we’ll use him more to run outside as well.

“Listen, any player you take, I’d say, any position except for maybe corner or receiver out of the SEC, they’re tough and they’re physical. We feel really good about that. There’s no issues with his durability for us.”

More: Lions take Louisiana safety Tracy Walker in third round

The selection of Johnson follows the team’s first-round pick of offensive lineman Frank Ragnow and shows the franchise’s commitment to improve its league-worst ground game. The Lions ranked last in both rushing yards per game (76.3) and per carry (3.4 yards) last season.

Johnson said he was too busy at Auburn to notice Detroit’s struggles running the ball, but he’s happy to be part of the solution. And while he might not know the team’s recent history, he recently noted on Twitter his favorite running back to watch is Lions Hall of Famer Barry Sanders.

“You watch Barry Sanders, what’s not to like?” Johnson said. “He’s a fantastic running back, he’s a fantastic guy. He’s extremely exciting to watch, extremely hard to tackle. I wish I was alive during that time to get to watch him in person.”

Johnson was born in June of 1997. Sanders retired in 1999.

Johnson was the sixth running back selected overall and third of the second round, after Georgia’s Nick Chubb (No. 35 to Cleveland) and USC’s Ronald Jones (No. 38 to Tampa Bay).

The Johnson file

Name: Kerryon Johnson

Position: Running back

College: Auburn

Round/overall: 2/43

Notable stats: Led the SEC in rushing with 115.9 yards a game, as well as 132.1 all-purpose yards per game. He was ninth in nation with 18 rushing touchdowns.

Analysis: The sixth running back selected and the third in the second round, Johnson was the SEC Offensive Player of the Year in 2017 while earning second-team All-American honors. An aggressive runner who can also return kicks, Johnson has played through his share of injuries, including shoulder and rib ailments last season. However, he played in 39 games in three seasons, starting 19.