Forgotten in the offense throughout much of his freshman season, Texas Longhorns' all-purpose tailback Daje Johnson is set to explode in 2013. All he needs is his touches.
Now that D.J. Monroe and Marquise Goodwin have graduated, Johnson stands alone as the team's fastest player as well as its top home run threat. This means that he is not only in line for a major increase in offensive touches, but that he is the top candidate to handle kickoff returns, an area where the 'Horns are desperate for some big plays.
Now that he is going to get the touches he deserves, Johnson is set for a career season in which he will establish himself as one the Big 12's most explosive players. Here's why.
Speed is the name of the game in both college and pro football, and Daje Johnson is as fast as they come, at any level.
His time of 4.34 seconds in the 40-yard dash puts Johnson in a class of his own. Not only was it the fastest time of any athlete in the 2012 recruiting class, but it makes him one of the dozen fastest players in the entire country.
Now, Johnson stands alone as both Texas' fastest player, as well as the fastest in the Big 12 Conference, putting him in line for a plethora of touches and some serious head-turners in 2013.
What sets the game's fastest players apart from one another is their ability to use their speed in multiple phases of the game. Daje Johnson is as versatile as they come.
He is listed as a tailback, but the 'Horns lined Johnson up everywhere on the field, from scatback to receiver. The result was only the second time in school history that a freshman scored both a rushing and receiving touchdown of 70 yards or more. Never mind that he did so touching the ball only 46 times, an average of just 3.5 times per game.
And those long touchdowns were no fluke. On the season, Johnson averaged a stellar 7.5 yards per carry and 15 yards per reception, numbers that are on par with what De'Anthony Thomas did at Oregon.
Whether it be as a change-of-pace back or as an extra receiver, Johnson is a lethal weapon for the Texas offense that the defense must account for on every play.
Goodwin thrived in his brief stint with Applewhite calling the shots. What will Johnson do with those opportunities?
Now that Major Applewhite is the team's offensive coordinator, expect the Longhorns to run more of a spread attack that is perfectly suited to put Johnson on full display.
The 'Horns will still emphasize the power running game, but Applewhite's offense is much more geared to utilizing their team speed than was Bryan Harsin's. Just as its name dictates, this offense will spread out the opposing defense to try to take advantage of one-on-one matchups.
In such offenses, players with speed and versatility, like Johnson's, are a matchup nightmare.
Something else working in Johnson's favor is that he is the only all-purpose player of his caliber on the team. Former hybrid players D.J. Monroe and Marquise Goodwin, who got the ball a combined 12 times in Applewhite's debut against Oregon State, have exhausted their eligibility. This means Johnson not only is first in line for their touches, but is the team's top all-purpose player in a system designed almost exclusively for his type of talent.
Put simply, players with 4.3 speed do extremely well when they touch the ball 5-10 times per game in a spread system. That is exactly the situation with Daje Johnson in 2013.
Given his speed and the system in which he will play, Daje Johnson is poised for a monster season in 2013.
First, Johnson will touch the ball much more than he did in 2012.
Monroe and Goodwin's departure frees up about 30 rushes, and Joe Bergeron will not carry the ball near as many as the 127 times he did so this past season. Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown are the top dogs in the backfield, but Johnson should also cut into their carries slightly as the speed back.
The absence of Monroe and Goodwin also leaves the team without a kick returner—another duty that will fall to the lightning fast Johnson.
Goodwin's departure frees up some room for Johnson in the slot as well, where he was very effective a year ago. He will have to fight fellow sophomores Cayleb Jones, Kendall Sanders and Marcus Johnson for snaps here, but Applewhite will also utilize four and five-receiver sets much more often than did Harsin. He needs to work on his polish as a receiver, but Texas does not have four players worth putting in over Johnson in this spot.
Johnson should be in line for at least 75 touches in his sophomore season. Should his per touch average hold, which they tend to over the course of a career, that means those touches should yield well over 750 yards of offense, which would have been third-best on the team last season.
Rest assured, Daje Johnson is destined for big things for the Longhorns in 2013.