Cards Target a Running Back Who Can Fly

Edgerrin James has been a mixed bag since coming to the Cardinals in 2006. While he has surpassed the 1,100-yard mark in both seasons, his increasing age and decreasing explosion have left the team scrambling to find his successor. James Jones examines a candidate the Cardinals got an up-close look at during Senior Bowl week.

Over the last four seasons, running back Chris Johnson (5'11", 200 pounds) put East Carolina on the map. During that span, he piled up 3,189 rushing yards, 1,296 receiving yards, 2,715 kickoff return yards and 44 all-purpose touchdowns.

He was named to the Conference USA All-Freshman squad and selected as the school's Outstanding Newcomer of the Year. Two seasons later, he ranked as the top all-purpose back in Conference USA. His performance garnered him an All League designation by Athlon Sports and Phil Steele Magazine.

Johnson had a true breakout year in 2007, setting career-highs in rushing yards (1,468), receiving yards (528) and touchdowns (24, including one on a kickoff return).

He is a player who uses his elusiveness to make defenders miss and his speed to run roughshod on his way to pay dirt. Playing the full four years in college certainly helped him hone his craft, so much so that he considers himself one of the most NFL-ready backs in the draft.

"The team that drafts me is going to get a player who is quick out of the backfield, hits the hole with great speed, runs hard, has great catching ability, great return ability," he said. "They'll get a player who is a threat to take it and get a touchdown every time he touches the ball."

Several NFL teams -- other than the Cardinals -- conducted private meetings with Johnson at the Senior Bowl, including the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys, San Diego Chargers and New York Jets.

With Edgerrin James being held under 4 yards per carry for the second time in as many seasons, coach Ken Whisenhunt realizes that a speedy back like Johnson could take some of the load off of his aging starter.

Johnson cherished his time meeting with NFL coaching staffs in Mobile, Ala. However, it was his work with Lane Kiffin and the coaching staff of the Oakland Raiders that really got him fired up.

"Knowing this coaching staff is going to try and help us raise our draft stock, it feels really good and I am excited," said Johnson from Mobile.

If drafted by Arizona, Johnson could step in and spell James next season. With third-year back J.J. Arrington failing to live up to his draft status and quickly falling out of favor, Johnson could be the jolt that is needed to solidify the running back corps.

Johnson wants Cardinals fans to know he can do more than just take a handful carries per game away from James. Johnson can return kicks, catch passes and pick up blitzes.

"I feel I can block well...if they (scouts) see it in person, that will help me a lot," he said.

If the GM Rod Graves is serious about upgrading the halfback position this year, then selecting Johnson in the middle of round three would make a lot of sense.


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