It’s finally game week! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.
Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus “completely bulletproof” — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.
Duke Johnson shocked everyone from day one last year. On just seven carries against Boston College, he ran for 135 yards and two scores, while only beginning to give a glimpse of what he could do in the return game. And for some reason from there, he still never grabbed the starting job away from Mike James. In all 12 games, Johnson never ran the ball more than 16 times, and in four different games he ran it less than 10. What he was able to do considering that limited action though is downright astounding. If you include kickoffs, Johnson had a grand total of 193 touches. And in those limited moments, he still manged 10.7 yards per play. His total yards on the season ranked him 11th in the country, his average per game (171.7) were ninth. The only running backs to even come close to that type of production were North Carolina‘s Giovani Bernard and Kent State‘s Dri Archer. Yet the ceiling has been raised for Johnson, now a sophomore this year.
First and foremost, he’s now the primary back, and that should automatically mean he’s getting 20-25 carries per game. The ‘Canes also have a pretty strong passing game, which means the pressure won’t be entirely on him to produce at the same rate as last year (though he’ll likely be able to do so anyway). Should he end up in that 20-25 carry range, I’m curious to see how much longer he remains a kick returner, which would certainly diminish his overall impact, even if it helped out his rushing durability. In the passing game, he’ll be a factor yet again though, and should be able to improve upon last year’s 27 catches.
The previous paragraph just address his overall impact, however, and I did want to expand upon that a bit. Johnson has a lot of value as a runner, obviously, but even more as a do-everything rusher/return man. It’s the return numbers that help bolster his Heisman candidacy from “solid” to “short list” and make his case a whole lot more interesting against a bevy of dynamic quarterbacks and receivers. Unfortunately, I do see his return numbers going down a bit (or reduced completely if he starts to get a bit banged up), though at the same time, it could lead to better stats off the line of scrimmage. I’m tempted to believe Johnson has a real shot at the Heisman — especially if Miami can end up in the 10-win range — but it’s going to be a tenuous case each week.