Kerryon Johnson just turned 23 years old and was born in Huntsville, Alabama. As a senior in high school, he rushed for 1,659 yards and 25 touchdowns. He committed to Auburn University to play football after declining offers from Alabama, Clemson, FSU, LSU, and several other big-name schools. At Auburn Johnson was the backup to Peyton Barber and didn’t do much as a freshman, only rushing 52 times for 208 yards and 3 touchdowns.
In his sophomore season, he rushed 182 times for 895 yards, a healthy 4.9 yards per carry, and 11 touchdowns. He also caught 17 passes for 125 yards. As a junior, he rushed 285 times for 1,391 yards and 18 touchdowns, chipping in 24 receptions for 194 yards and 2 touchdowns.
He led the SEC in multiple categories that year. At the NFL Combine Johnson measured 5’ 11½ and weighed 213 pounds, running a 4.52-second 40-yard dash. The Detroit Lions selected him in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft. He was the sixth running back off the board.
Despite being in the NFL for only two years, Johnson has struggled to stay healthy. He has only appeared in a combined 18 games over the two years. Johnson has demonstrated dynamic abilities in multiple games such as his 158-yard performance on 19 carries, adding 2 catches for 21 yards in a week seven game against Miami. Unfortunately, he has struggled to stay healthy throughout the rest of the season.
In Week 11 of Johnson’s rookie season, he sprained his left knee and missed the rest of the season. In his 2019 season, he struggled with another knee injury, this time it was the right knee and was placed on injured reserve in mid-October. Johnson managed to play in two more games before the end of the season, 8 games in total.
Let’s review Johnson‘s injuries. Having missed 14 of a possible 32 games in only two years. It is safe to say that Johnson has struggled to stay healthy. Johnson underwent shoulder surgery in 2016 while still at Auburn to repair a torn labrum. He also missed a game in his sophomore season at Auburn with an ankle injury and then two games in his junior year with a right hamstring injury. Johnson sprained his left knee in the middle of his rookie (2018) NFL season and then sprained right knee in October 2019, which required surgery.
While the details of his 2018 injury are minimal, my suspicion is Johnson suffered at least a significant MCL sprain and possible meniscal injury. He reportedly did not need surgery at that time. Less than a year later, Johnson sustained a significant meniscal tear in his right knee that required surgery, this time on the opposite knee.
These are very concerning injuries for such a young running back. At the minimum, Johnson has two banged up knees and has never been able to rush over 300 carries in any of his college or NFL seasons. In his rookie season, he maxed out at 150 touches and only made it to 123 in 2019.
The issue with the knee is that the stress that is placed on the knee with frequent cutting can lead to injuries like Johnson has sustained. Unfortunately, these really heal well enough to not bother him going forward. Once the meniscus is torn, he is at a higher risk of tearing it again. Additionally, this can lead to other injuries as well as develop osteoarthritis.
The Lions spent significant draft capital in this spring's draft on another running back: De’Andre Swift. Swift currently looks like the favorite to win the starting running back role. Johnson has been able to average a respectable 4.5 yards per carry, and 8.1 yards per catch through his two NFL seasons, the problem is he can’t seem to stay healthy.
In the NFL, the room for error is small. A quick kill to a player’s career could be fumble problems, missing blocking assignments, ineffectiveness, or like Kerryon Johnson, injuries. It's too early to wave the white flag for Johnson. Still, his injury history is a massive reason why the Detroit Lions brought in Swift. Johnson has gone from the bell-cow to sharing the trough.
Johnson’s 2019 knee injury in Week 7 cost him eight games, which wrecked an excellent start to the season. During the time Johnson saw the field, he put up 411 yards and three touchdowns in the first five contests.
He was demonstrating cohesiveness with Matthew Stafford by averaging approximately 10 yards per target through the first five games. However, he went from averaging 3.9 targets per game in 2018 to less than two. His yards per carry also dipped, going from 5.4 to 3.6 in 2019.
Johnson will be in his third season in 2020. While he is putting up RB2 numbers in his two seasons as a pro, it will be difficult for Johnson to continue his progressions with Swift looming in the background. Johnson will be sharing time in the backfield, and if Swift shines, he could be the low man on the totem pole.
The Lions offense was middle of the road. Detroit finished 18th in points with 341 and 17th in yards (5549). Both categories have the potential to be better as Stafford missed eight games last season. Also, they won't be handing the ball off to Bo Scarbrough, Ty Johnson, or JD McKissic on a routine basis.
Outside of Swift, the Lions did not upgrade their offense in the draft. Still, they brought in Geronimo Allison from Green Bay for depth purposes. Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola return. The offensive line will have two new starters.
Right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai replaces Rick Wagner, and Joe Dahl steps in for Graham Glasgow. Dahl could have competition from third-round selection Jonah Jackson from Ohio State. The Lions utilize a gap-power scheme.
Sports Injury Predictor has Johnson as a very high-risk injury candidate in 2020 with a 62% chance of injury, which projects him at 2.5 games missed. I concur with this concern, and he is a 7.5 out of 10 risk score for me. Recurrent knee injuries are very concerning, especially for young NFL running backs.
As of July 1, Johnson has an ADP of RB41 and an overall of 104. A high RB4 is an excellent start, but I (Mike) prefer around RB46 to secure more insurance. Johnson has shown the potential to be a three-down back. However, with the addition of Swift, he becomes more of a flex/bye-week option.
With how well Johnson has received the ball in the NFL, I (Dr. Morse) would love to see the Lions use him as a slot WR or two-man backfield (think Kamara). That might help him stay healthy and remain productive on the field. If that happens, Johnson could be a steal at his current ADP of RB41. There are not many guys with his upside at RB at this point in the draft.Injury Risk: High. 7.5/10
|Projected Missed||Probability of injury per game ?||Probablity of injury in the season ?|
|Oct 20, 2019||Knee Meniscus Tear||Johnson sustained a knee injury during the Week 7 contest against the Vikings. He missed 8 games|
|Nov 18, 2018||Knee Strain Grade 1||Johnson missed the final 6 games of the season with a sprained left knee.|
|Nov 25, 2017||Shoulder||Johnson injured his right shoulder in Auburn's final regular season game. He was able to play in the SEC Championship the following week.|
|Sep 2, 2017||Thigh Hamstring Sprain/Pull Unspecified Grade 1||Johnson missed 2 games in his final season at Auburn with a right hamstring injury.|
|Oct 8, 2016||Pedal Ankle Sprain/Pull Unspecified Grade 1||Johnson missed 1 game at Auburn in 2016 with a right ankle injury.|
|Jan 18, 2016||Shoulder||Johnson underwent shoulder surgery following the 2015 season but was ready for the start of the 2016 campaign.|