Considering Colorado State running back Gartrell Johnson is expected to be a "relatively" late draft pick, the man has a fair amount of popularity among the Niners Nation faithful. A search revealed 4 stories, 5 FanPosts and 22 comments involving Johnson in some manner (and that's not even factoring in misspellings of his first name).
Most people recognize the need for some kind of secondary running back to ease the burden on Frank Gore, whether it be a guy like Johnson, Thomas Clayton or an assortment of other options. I'd imagine somebody will try and hijack this into a Free Thomas Clayton thread, but we'll deal with that when it happens. For now, let's take a look at Gartrell Johnson, a guy who comes across to me as a sort of baby bull (in spite of his 5'11 size) of a running back.
He first came to my attention during the East-West Shrine Game. While I'm a UNLV fan, I don't get to see much Mountain West football, so I didn't get any regular season exposure to Johnson. I did a live blog of the East-West game and came away impressed with Johnson's performance. Some of the pertinent comments:
1:35 - Gartrell Johnson is really impressive so far. They've said over and over that he lacks speed (4.7 40 they actually said), but he just seems to break through for the solid runs. McShay: "I think elite speed is the most overrated aspect of evaluating running backs. As long as you're quick enough to get through the line of scrimmage you can play at the next level."
2:22 - Gartrell Johnson apparently came out of nowhere this season, as he wasn't expected to be the starter. His yards per carry is exactly the same as last season with 97 more carries. It's hard to make an exact assessment yet, but that has to be a good sign.
Overall, he actually improved his consistency later in the season, finishing the last three games of the season (including the New Mexico Bowl) with 547 yards at 6.8 yards per rush and 4 touchdowns. One can question the level of competition, but the Mountain West has shown improvement, and the numbers are impressive either way. For his career, here are his rushing numbers:
After the jump we take a further look at the scouting report on Johnson, both the good and the bad...
In a look at various sites (Yahoo, New Era Scouting, Mocking the Draft), Johnson seems to rank around the 14th or 15th running back, surrounded by guys like Devin Moore and Arian Foster. Even with solid work in the postseason, Johnson has been dogged by the same issue: lack of explosive speed. Numerous sites have discussed it and the same thoughts come up:
MTD: Does not have great speed. Doesn't have a great initial burst at the line of scrimmage, which can make it hard for him to quickly scoot through a hole.
Rivals.com: Plays at one speed and lacks any kind of second gear in the secondary. Is consistently caught from behind and lacks big-play capability once he breaks into the open field.
At the combine he ran a 4.75 40 yard dash, while at his Pro Day he ran with times of 4.67 and 4.68. So does that mean he becomes more of a Brandon Jacobs in the early going running back (more simply: a goal line back)? Or does he have the talent to be a more frequently used running back? Scouting reports seems to like his footwork, particularly for a man of his build:
MTD: A powerfully built, one-cut running back, Johnson really came on during his senior season. Quick feet and has good agility. Great vision. Has a body that allows him to shake off tacklers. Runs with a good, wide base. Gets terrific body lean and could be good in short yardage plays.
Rivals.com: A thickly built back with impressive footwork and lateral mobility for his size. Does a nice job with his jump cut, squaring his shoulders and attacking downhill. Is a powerful downhill back with good balance and pad level inside. Is very coordinated in space, has the ability to make a man miss and be a factor as a receiver out of the backfield.
My ESPN Insider password is acting up so I'm without their scouting reports for now.
I have to say, this is a guy I could definitely see spelling Frank Gore. As the video below mentions, some folks think Johnson is best suited as a fullback. But they point to the reasons he would fit in as a running back. While there may be speed issues, does it really matter when you can run folks over with relative ease? The question in that case becomes whether he can carry that over to the behemoths he'd be facing each week in the NFL.
Outside of his bulldozing ability, Gartrell seems to be a genuinely good character person, which is always a plus when it comes with some talent. According to NFLDraftScout.com, he's "regarded by coaches even before he became a starter as the inspirational leader of the offense and one of the toughest and most humble players on the team." Certainly a guy that Mike Singletary could take a liking to.
One final, similar note, 49ers area scout Todd Brunner was at the East-West Shrine Game and in one report, he stated that "[Gartrell] runs hard and showed some power with the football. He practiced hard every day this week." I realize this is just one comment from a scout, but when you hear it from multiple sources, it only helps Johnson's cause.
We've also got an interview Johnson conducted with NFLHouse.com. Not the greatest sound quality, but not too shabby.