Cowboys Draft, RB/FB Devon Johnson: Two Birds – One Stone

Sep 6, 2015; Huntington, WV, USA; Marshall Thundering Herd running back Devon Johnson (47) runs the ball during the third quarter against the Purdue Boilermakers at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 6, 2015; Huntington, WV, USA; Marshall Thundering Herd running back Devon Johnson (47) runs the ball during the third quarter against the Purdue Boilermakers at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports /

The Dallas Cowboys struggled mightily in short-yardage situations last season. Could a bruising running back/fullback combo like Devon “Rockhead” Johnson be the solution?

It’s no secret that the Dallas Cowboys struggled rushing the ball in short yardage situations in 2015. It’s one of the main reasons the Cowboys finished 30th in the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage and 27th in the NFL in third down conversions.

Without the bruising style of DeMarco Murray carrying the rock, the Cowboys had to lean on their offensive line to convert those short-yardage situations. And as I’ve mentioned before, short-yardage running does not play to this line’s strengths.

For the past three seasons, the Cowboys fullback position has been occupied by Tyler Clutts. Clutts, 31, is a largely thought of as a specialist in the Cowboys offense. With only 135 snaps played in 2015, and Jason Garrett’s adversity to multiple back sets, Clutts is a part-time player with virtually no chance at an expanded role.

In the running game, the Cowboys have two glaring weaknesses and both of them are intertwined. The good news is both the part-time role of fullback and the neglected role of short-yardage ball carrier, could be answered by the same player. Devon “Rockhead” Johnson.

With a name like “Rockhead” what’s not to love? The 6’1” 244lb wrecking ball from Marshall may be able to kill two birds with one stone for the Dallas Cowboys. He could be both their occasional fullback as well as their short-yardage halfback. Oh, did I mention he used to be a tight end so H-back isn’t even out of the question?

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For the past two seasons, Devon Johnson has been the primary ball carrier for the Thundering Herd. In 2014 he rushed for 1,767 yards on 206 attempts, racking up an 8.6 yards per carry average and 17 TDs in the process. Injury derailed his senior season but he was on pace for much of the same, collecting 593 yards in only four complete games.

Rated by Walter Football as the #2 FB in the 2016 NFL Draft, Rockhead has proven he can lower his pads and deliver bone jarring blocks as a fullback as well. He’s big and strong enough to move linemen and he’s quick and athletic enough to hit ‘backers at the next level.

He’s a kind of combo-back that could change the Cowboys short-yardage and goal line fortunes overnight.

Obviously, one player cannot lead-block for himself if he’s also the primary short-yardage ball carrier. But with a player like Devon Johnson in the backfield, opponents wouldn’t know what to expect. Imagine the possibilities in a goal line formation alone:

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  • Devon could carry the ball from the FB position or he could carry it from the tailback position.
  • He could lead block or he could be a decoy runner moving in the opposite direction of the actual ball carrier.
  • The Cowboys could leave Johnson in the backfield, motion in someone like Geoff Swaim as a lead blocker, and motion out a HB like McFadden as a receiver.
  • He could do it all, confuse opponents, and save the Cowboys a roster spot in the process.

Watching his highlight film you can see him patiently working behind the Marshall zone blocking scheme and getting downhill in a hurry. He has a one-cut-and-go style that would fit the Cowboys’ offense from any down and distance.

His level of competition must be considered, but grading his size, speed, shiftiness, and pad level, he appears to be a player that translates well to the NFL. His draft stock will largely depend on his combine performance. Some around the team suggest he runs 40’s in the 4.5-4.6 second range. If true, his 5th-6th round draft stock could jump up significantly. But all things considered, it probably should since he would then prove to be the complete package.

Devon Johnson would fill a void DeMarco Murray left when he departed in free agency. He would be the bruising back that Darren McFadden, Lance Dunbar, and Robert Turbin simply are not. With so many finesse backs around, Rockhead’s skills are an underappreciated rarity these days. And it probably wouldn’t cost a top pick to get him either.

Next: Lance Dunbar Must Return in 2016 for the Cowboys

The Cowboys don’t need another change of pace back like Dunbar (assuming he’s re-signed) or a between the 20’s runner like McFadden – they need a thumper like Rockhead.