Whether the 49ers need to take a running back in the 2023 draft is entirely subjective at this point. They have a superstar in Christian McCaffrey and another dependable runner with a 1000 yard season in Elijah Mitchell.
Jordan Mason showed promise as a physical downhill runner, and there is still plenty of reason to be optimistic that Tyrion Davis-Price can be a contributor in year two.
But life in the NFL is unpredictable, and the running back position is as volatile as any other with due to the amount of physical punishment that is inflicted on them from a game to game basis. That is why I think the 49ers should use one of their compensatory third round picks on a back who has serious potential to be a significant contributor at the next level.
If you are going to take another back in that range, it has to be a dependable player that would compliment a deep room with a wide array of skills, and make the investment of another running back worth the capital that would be invested. You need the complete package and there is a back who is projected to be available in that range who fits the bill.
Roschon Johnson out of Texas.
Johnson would likely be getting a lot more attention if not for the fact he was buried on the depth chart behind one of the best prospects in this class. Despite having to be the number two back behind Bijan Robinson, he did plenty during his time at Texas to catch the eye of NFL front offices in need of a dynamic back at the next level.
Johnson was extremely efficient with the touches he did get, recording a career average of 5.6 yards per carry over his four seasons with the Longhorns. He was extremely consistent from year to year as well, never averaging less than five yards per carry in any of those four seasons.
At 6’, 220 pounds, Johnson is a bruising back who excels running north to south. He regularly punished defenders trying to tackle him, with 72 percent of his career rushing yards coming after contact.
Despite his ability to bulldoze opposing defenses, Johnson is an extremely agile back as well who has incredible burst that allows him to accelerate quickly near the line of scrimmage.
That is a trait that all three of the backs the 49ers have selected in the last couple of years have shared. This makes the 10 yard split a much more valuable tool to evaluate these prospects compared to the long speed that comes with a 40-yard dash number.
Johnson’s 10 yard split was clocked in at 1.52 seconds, which ranks in the 83rd percentile at the running back position in the Mockdraftable database. Here is a clip that highlights that explosive element Johnson brings while hitting the hole with conviction:
Roschon Johnson to the house pic.twitter.com/mjrxnDe7Sa— Matt (@CoachMinich) April 4, 2023
Johnson was a nightmare for defenders trying to take him down, forcing a missed tackle on 45 percent of his rushing attempts over the last two seasons, which was the best in the country over that span.
Roschon Johnson stiff arm pic.twitter.com/yVU2SJeqcY— Matt (@CoachMinich) April 4, 2023
He also showed he can be a weapon in passing situations, even if he doesn’t have receiving numbers that jump off the screen. Here is a big gain off a screen pass that highlights Johnson’s big play ability:
Roschon Johnson screen pic.twitter.com/XCKmD0Jf4t— Matt (@CoachMinich) April 4, 2023
He is also a more than capable back in pass protection, as evidenced by this rep, where he is going to chip the edge defender before leaking out into the flat to turn a check down into a sizable gain:
The other #Texas RB Roschon Johnson is a nice compliment to Bijan Robinson.— Derrick (@Steelers_DB) October 12, 2022
This is a big time chip in pass protection that puts the edge defender on the turf before leaking out and catching a checkdown that turns into a big play. pic.twitter.com/Fz9XMd3syb
Another thing that might endear Johnson to Kyle Shanahan and the rest of the 49ers brass has been the ball security he has had during his time at Texas. He only fumbled once over 448 career touches during his collegiate career.
One other bonus is that Johnson has a ton of experience against top flight competition, without the high mileage that backs of his pedigree typically have after four years in a power five conference.
That timeshare he split with Robinson leading to less wear and tear at Texas could mean that the NFL team that selects him is going to be the one who ends up getting the best years out of him while he is still young and inexpensive.
The 49ers love to run the football, and they have been on the short end of the stick of some very unfortunate injury luck over the last couple of seasons. Spending capital on another back might seem like a luxury pick at this point in time, but given the short shelf life at the position, an investment in a player like Johnson could end up making a massive difference should one of the top guys in the rotation have to miss any time.
Mock Draft Database does a fantastic job of compiling thousands of mock drafts from analysts and experts alike to gauge where prospects are projected to be selected. According to their site, Johnson is projected to be taken at pick 105. The 49ers have selections at 99, 101, and 102. If he is there, they should take him without a second thought.
This is a big, strong, and quick back who does all the little things right while almost never coughing up the football. If you are going to take a back in this draft, Johnson feels like as safe of a pick as any.