CLINTON — For the past four years, Northern Iowa football coach Mark Farley has had the privilege of seeing Clinton native and soon-to-be NFL rookie David Johnson grow.
Farley had to recruit Johnson to attend Northern Iowa four years ago, but now he has been promoting his star running back to NFL scouts and front-office staff.
The payoff should come in the next three days during the NFL Draft, which begins tonight in Chicago with first-round selections. Johnson, who reportedly is spending time with friends and family in Florida, is expected to be selected either Friday (second and third rounds) or Saturday (third-seventh rounds).
“They feel very strongly about him; some have him going in the second round, and others have him going in the fourth round,” Farley said during a telephone conversation Wednesday evening. “One of the neatest things for him isn’t when he goes but how long he stays in the draft.”
Farley believes that Johnson brings many skills to the table, with one of them being his 6-foot-1, 224-pound frame.
“His speed, his ability to catch the ball in the backfield, to run with anybody in the backfield ... he’s a durable back, so when I talk to these scouts, they say David could be a first-down running back or a third-down running back,” Farley said. “He can play on any down, and he can play on special teams, and those types of things bring value.”
Johnson averaged 110 rushing yards a game and 36 yards a kick return. During the 2015 Senior Bowl, the former River King gained 43 yards rushing while scoring the team’s only touchdown on his first carry from scrimmage. Johnson added a pass reception for 16 yards and 82 kick-return yards.
“I think he could be as good as any back that’s been in the league,” Farley said. “I hate to compare him to anybody, but I know that he’s got 4.4 speed (4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash), and guys like that do very well. He has the size, talent and social ability to put a great image on the team, and I think those are things that will keep him in the league for a long, long time.”
Johnson, meanwhile, is hoping to take in as much as he can before he gets picked by an NFL organization this weekend.
“I’m trying to focus on learning as much as I can and even the little stuff that guys don’t know as a rookie,” Johnson said after his Pro Day workout.
One of the main talking points that Farley has expressed with those who have called is what Johnson brings off the gridiron.
“To the man, his value continues to go up because of his character,” Farley said. “He could be the face of a franchise. He’s going to be great for the team as much as good at his position, and he brings security to a team. What they’re asking is about character, and the bestway I’ve answered that is whatever people have been telling you, he’s even better than that. He’s actually better than what everyone said.”
For example, Johnson proudly boasted a UNI Nike dri-fit shirt during his Pro Day workout in March. That, to Farley, is a microcosm of who Johnson is.
“He knows where he came from, and he knows how he got there,” Farley said. “A lot of times guys get caught up in the hype and they want to start representing an agent or company. David stayed true to himself. I think that right there will ultimately give him the best chance to stay in the league a long time.”