Secret Superstar: Damaris Johnson
The Eagles’ offense struggled in 2012, but inconsistency at quarterback and injuries to the offensive line were not the only reasons. The receiving corps also had their part to play in the 4-12 record and eventual Top 5 draft pick. Brent Celek’s drops lead to some costly interceptions and Jeremy Maclin’s poor blocking prevented good gains from turning into big, potentially game-changing plays.
Andy Reid’s trademark long ball was rarely successful in 2012 and the rest of the offense was fairly inept as well. The team scored over 30 points in just one game last season and that was with the help of a punt return for a touchdown. They scored over 20 points just seven times. Ultimately, those numbers are the reason Reid finds himself in Kansas City.
However, Reid’s departure signals the arrival of Chip Kelly, and different priorities when it comes to the skill positions. If practices are anything to go by, then the receivers will have to block if they are to play. That spells trouble for the likes of Maclin. Jason Avant shouldn’t be concerned over his blocking ability but his lack of versatility and dynamism could be an issue at a position where Kelly demands both. Practicing on both sides of the ball does not necessarily mean his roster spot is in danger but it has foreshadowed the release of some established veterans in the past.
The fact that Avant is owed $2 million in 2013 and $2.25 million in 2014 on a rebuilding team only makes this offseason even more important for the former Michigan Wolverine. If 2012 was anything to go by, he can expect a challenge from second-year receiver Damaris Johnson.
Path to the Draft
Johnson didn’t get many offers coming out of high school. Being 5-foot-8 and lacking track speed will do that to you. He didn’t let that hold him back though and quickly became one of the focal points of Tulsa’s offense and special teams. Johnson amassed 12 touchdowns and over 2,000 all-purpose yards in 14 games in his first college season. Overall he had 2,700 receiving yards, 1,000 rushing yards, almost 4,000 combined punt and kick return yards, and 29 touchdowns in three college seasons. He currently holds the record for most all-purpose yardage in NCAA history.
It all fell apart for Johnson, however, when he was arrested for felony embezzlement just before the 2011 season. An indefinite suspension followed and it seemed any chance of making it in the NFL was lost. The Eagles gave Johnson a chance though, and he hasn’t looked back since.
Seizing the Opportunity
Building off a successful preseason, Johnson put his 235 snaps to good use. He displayed his versatility by lining up in the backfield, out wide, and in the slot. Despite carrying the ball just three times, Johnson graded positively on two of those carries. Both times he showed good acceleration to pick up first downs. Three carries is obviously not much to go on but Johnson’s experience in multiple roles will certainly give Kelly and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur options.
While the gadget plays in the backfield are all well and good, fundamentally Johnson has to be capable as a receiver to get on the field. He was more than capable as a rookie. Overall, he caught 19 of his 28 targets for 256 yards (105 YAC) with no drops and five forced missed tackles. To put that in perspective, Maclin had just three forced missed tackles in 68 receptions, while Avant also had three but in 53 grabs. No receiver with at least five forced missed tackles played as few snaps as Johnson’s 235.
Johnson also found a way to contribute on special teams. He wasn’t great in that respect, gaining a modest +1.4 grade but he did break one to the house to give the Eagles a chance late against the Cowboys. Johnson’s average of 11.2 yards per return also put him in the Top 20 in the league. Not much went right for Philadelphia’s special teams in 2012 but their rookie punt returner did a good job on the whole.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Johnson is one of the players Kelly is most excited about working with. He’s obviously not the best receiver on the team but he has the potential to give the Eagles’ offense incredible flexibility. Whether he’s lined up in the backfield, as a receiver, or deep as a punt returner, Johnson clearly has good vision and knows how to do the little things to generate yardage. There have been reports that Jackson might return punts in 2013 but Johnson will fight to keep the job. He should also see more time on offense.
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