Scout's Notebook: RB Ian Johnson

Take an exhaustive inside look at an undrafted rookie free agent running back with a good chance of sticking with the Vikings in Boise State's Ian Johnson.

#42, Ian Johnson, RB (5110, 212, 4.41-4.58) Boise State

Notes: Born 9/25/85, in San Dimas, Calif. Attended Damien High School (LaVerne, CA) and was named Inland Valley Offensive Player of the Year, L.A. Times All-San Gabriel Valley first team, San Gabriel Valley Tribune All-Area first team, Daily Bulletin Inland Valley All-Area Team, All-Sierra League MVP, and CIF Division II first-team all-league as a senior. Johnson was also a team captain and set school records in career rushing yards(3,627), season rushing yards (1,751), touchdowns (45) and points scored (282). He also had 66 tackles, two interceptions, four fumble recoveries and six sacks on defense. He lettered in track where he was an All-Sierra League and All-CIF pick while competing in the 100-meters, 200-meters, and 4x100-meter relay. Johnson was best known off the field at Damein for his strange pregame ritual of dancing around and eating a banana, including the peel, to excite the team. High school coach was Scott Morrison.

College: Redshirted in 2004. Rushed 119-663-4 (5.6 avg.) and caught 5-46 as a freshman in 2005. Missed most of spring Ian Johnsonpractice in 2006 after undergoing hernia surgery, but returned to help the Broncos finish unbeaten (12-0) in the regular season in 2006 as he rushed 276-1,714-25 (6.2 avg.) and caught 8-55, despite tearing his right PCL in one game (opted against surgery). Also missed another contest (Utah State) due to a partially collapsed lung suffered the previous week. He scored the game-winning two-point conversion in overtime on a Statue of Liberty play to the left side to defeat Adrian Peterson and the Oklahoma Sooners in the 2007 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. His 25 TDs led the nation.

Following the game, during an interview with Chris Myers, Johnson proposed to his girlfriend Chrissy Popadics, Boise State's head cheerleader, on Fox Sports' postgame coverage. She accepted and they married on July 28, 2007. According to Johnson, he received about 30 threatening letters, which he handed over to the FBI, from people who objected to the interracial marriage. According to Yahoo Sports, Johnson, who is half black, and Popadics, who is white, had to hire security for their wedding.

He missed spring practices in 2007 resting his knee. He finished the year rushing 207-1,041-16 (5.0 avg.) and caught 25-312-1 (12.5 avg.), but missed time with a bruised kidney and was also limited by a high right ankle sprain. In 2008, he started 11 of 13 games, rushing 150-766-13 (5.1 avg.) and caught 22-229-0 (10.4 avg.).

A General Business Management major, his main source of income in college had been from the sales of crocheted beanies he sold to teammates, fans and fellow students. According to a Nov. 11, 2006 interview broadcast on ESPN, the cost of each beanie was $15. However, in late 2006, the NCAA later ruled that Johnson could not profit from his growing celebrity status, nor could he donate the proceeds to charity. He had to cease all sales.

Pre-Draft: Worked out at the Scouting Combine and his Pro Day workout at Boise State with 1.46 10-yard dash, 2.55 20-yard dash, 4.41 40-yard dash, 4.18 20-yard shuttle, 11.62 60-yard shuttle, 6.93 three-cone drill, 33-inch vertical jump, 9’8” broad jump and did 26 reps at 225 pounds.

Pro: Signed by the Vikings as an undrafted free agent following the 2009 NFL Draft. Chose the Vikings among 12 to 15 teams who pursued him, with strong offers also coming from Dallas and Denver.

Positives: Very good vision and initial quickness. Anticipates and hits the hole nicely and gets upfield quickly. Slips tackles. Isn’t afraid of contact. Deceptive speed (ran a 4.41 at Indianapolis). Good weave in the open field. Catches the ball well and extends his hands to pluck it away from his body. Worked out extremely well at the Combine and appeared to be fully healthy once again after battling with injuries much of the past two seasons. Appears willing to cover kicks and contribute on special teams.

Negatives: Is not that naturally big and lacks top tackle-breaking strength and genuine power. A bit stiff and two straight-ahead in his running. Takes a fair amount of punishment due to his running style. Durability is a concern. Seems to crave attention a bit too much. Production declined the past two seasons in college.

Summary: Johnson has no chance of dislodging Adrian Peterson or Chester Taylor in the backfield, but will likely be competing with 2008 practice squad running back Albert Young to earn the No. 3 spot on the active roster. Any ability he can show on special teams will greatly enhance his chances in that battle. If he can get over the hump, he has enough skills and intangibles to contribute as a third-down, change-of-pace runner and pass receiver out of the backfield on occasion.

What they said:

“I have to go out there and show right away that I'm a guy who is willing to play special teams, that I'm going to make a difference on special teams. I'm going to go out there right now and try to make the Pro Bowl on special teams. From there, it's going to be how fast do I learn the offensive protections. Everybody can run the ball. They need people who can learn and execute the protections. That's something I excel at. Once I learn that stuff, then natural talent and ability is going to take over. It's putting in the work in the classroom and the film room, knowing the wording and their system like the back of my hand.” –Johnson’s post-draft comments after agreeing with the Vikings

“It was one of those things I kind of prepared myself for. In the end, I knew I would end up somewhere where I needed to be and I truly believe I can do something good at Minnesota. I'm so happy to be coached by coach (Eric Bieniemy, running backs). He went to Bishop Amat, my (high) school's rival, and I know so much about his game as a player as well as a coach. I'm not that disappointed because in the end I'm happy. I wanted to go in there and have someone who is a set guy be able to teach me. And who better to learn from than the Beast (All-Pro Adrian Peterson) himself. They don't have a whole stable. They've got two guys (Peterson and Taylor), so there's a better chance to be able to make an impression on the team. The whole environment of that team was perfect for me. It's a good fit for me personally - as a city, for my wife. And I think it's a place I could be for a long time." –Johnson on his decision to sign with Minnesota

“Ian Johnson was a really nice pickup, sort of like a REAL poor man’s Robert Smith – he's a fantastic catcher out of the backfield and a kamikaze on special teams. I think Ian Johnson as a third-down back will be special.” –Dave-Te Thomas, draft analyst on a recent VikingUpdate.com live chat

“Johnson was a very productive back at Boise State, but he had the benefits of facing sub-par defenses in the WAC and playing in a wide-open passing game. Frequently, his running the football surprised the opposition and he didn’t have to show a whole lot of skill to gain yardage. Johnson runs a little bit upright which subjects his frame to hits, and with his history of injuries at the college level, he’s going to need to show that he can handle NFL punishment. He does have good straight-line speed and has excellent character. Johnson is probably limited as a pro running back, as his skills don’t translate as well to an NFL offense.” -Mel Kiper, Jr.

Other links:

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