James Johnson, RB
(5113, 205, 4.50-4.69 coming out) Kansas State
Notes: Born James X. Johnson, 9/5/84, in Baton Rouge, La., but grew up in Port Arthur, Texas, where he attended Jefferson and Memorial high schools. Was a two-time Class 4A all-state honorable mention performer. Johnson started playing football as a first grader. By third grade, he played with the fourth, fifth and sixth graders. As a high school sophomore, he was the starting running back for the TJ varsity by the season's third game. He excelled as a junior, when he rushed 223 times for 1,395 yards (6.3 avg.) and 16 touchdowns. That 2001 season was the last before three Port Arthur ISD high schools merged to form Memorial, where he had a rough start to his senior season. Memorial head coach Dean Colbert kicked Johnson off the team during the off-season and suspended him the first game of the 2002 season. The all-district running back finally made his way back on the roster. He played nine games but still rushed 127 times for 1,176 yards for a 9.3 yards-per-carry average. The time off the team helped put things in perspective for Johnson - with a little help from his mother. Another blow came to Johnson when he failed to qualify academically to attend a Division I school. In this case, he could not play for a school such as LSU, which had been recruiting him.
College: Enrolled at Blinn College (Texas) from 2003-05, redshirting as a freshman before rushing for 2,384 yards on 323 carries (7.4 avg.) and 36 touchdowns the next two seasons. Transferred to Kansas State in 2006; started 5-of-10 games, carrying 98-403-2 (4.1 avg.) and 10 receptions for 87 yards and one touchdown; also returned 2 kicks for 105 yards, including a TD. In 2007, he finished the season as the Wildcats' leading rusher with 1,164 yards, making school history along the way. He set a record for fewest rushing attempts (159) needed to reach 1,000 yards, averaging 7.3 yards per carry. Earned second-team all-conference honors from Associated Press.
Pro: Originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Cincinnati Bengals following the 2008 NFL Draft. After a strong initial showing in training campPlayed in all four preseason games, rushing 21-94 (4.5) and adding 2 receptions for 10 yards, he was waived and re-signed to the Bengals practice squad. Added to the active roster on Dec. 5, he played in 4 games rushing 9 times for 29 yards and catching 6 passes for 47 yards. Saw action in all four preseason games once again last season (2009) with the Bengals as he rushed 23-102 (4.4 avg.). He spent the entire season on Cincinnati's practice squad. Having been on an NFL 53-man roster for less than the required minimum of six games, he remains designated a first-year player. The Vikings signed James Johnson to a futures contract in January 2010.
Positives: Steady, productive, all-around back does everything fairly well. Is tough, runs hard and competes. Good initial burst and explosiveness. A physical, slashing, aggressive runner who hits the hole quickly, he is more quick than fast. Catches the ball effectively and looks comfortable in the passing game. Capable blocker. Hard worker.
Negatives: Does not have a naturally large frame and is thinly built. Lacks top speed to get to the outside, turn the corner and pull away from defenders. Is not very elusive and seldom makes tacklers miss in the open field. Needs some reps to pick things up.
Summary: Johnson should not look out of place in his third NFL training camp with the Vikings. He does everything pretty well, but does not truly stand out in any one area. He should provide solid competition in camp but faces an uphill battle to crack the opening-day roster with the Vikings.
Kevin Brown has been providing personnel analysis and writing about the Vikings for more than 20 years with Viking Update. Follow VU on Twitter and discuss this and other topics on our message boards.