Yesterday, the 2013 NFL Combine list of invitees was released and let me start off by saying congratulations to the six Razorbacks that received an invite: Tyler Wilson, Knile Davis, Chris Gragg, Cobi Hamilton, Alvin Bailey, and Dylan Breeding all were very deserving of their invitations.
However, there’s a name not on that list that really gets to me: Dennis Johnson. Of course, I’m a huge Razorback fan and wish that all of our draft eligible players could have gotten an invite, and since I’ve been contributing to this site, I’ve made it known that I’m a really big fan of Dennis. This isn’t me being a totally biased fan, based on Johnson’s career I believe he truly deserves a spot in the Combine, but some people get left out.
Johnson played as a true freshman, and was named to the SEC's All Freshman team. He holds the school record and SEC record for total kickoff return yards (2,784). He finished his Razorback career with 2,036 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Johnson lacks the numbers of a big time NFL prospect, but take one look at his highlight tape and anyone can see that DJ is a player.
Just ask former Troy linebacker Borris Lee (watch!), or Mississippi State safety Darius Slade (watch!) Or the entire 2009 Florida Gator defense, you remember that game, you know, with the refs? Michael Smith was out, and Johnson, a sophomore at the time, got the start. I was at that game in Gainesville, and 3 friends and I watched my favorite Razorback bully the SEC’s best defense. Johnson was a man among boys, breaking tackle after tackle on his way to a 100 yard game. But, why listen to me explain it, check it out yourself (watch!).
He’s also shown resiliency and selflessness. The guy lacerated his spleen for crying out loud, he was on the Doak Walker watch list, and by freak accident he suffered a life threatening injury in just his second game in what was supposed to be his year. Well, he made a full recovery and, in the meantime, the country got acquainted with Knile Davis. Of course, Davis would be lost for the next season when Johnson returned, but imagine going down like that and someone else coming in and essentially taking over your job.
Where Dennis may lack in stats or size, he makes up for in heart.
The summer between my freshman and sophomore year of high school (2008), I attended the Arkansas prospect camp for the first time. They took us into the weight room, and on the wall was a chart with certain workout accolades with the player’s picture that had achieved them, or were tops in the category. I can’t remember exactly what they were, but I remember seeing Dennis’s picture over two of them, at the time he was a sophomore to be.
I attended the camp the following year and there was the updated chart, and again there was Dennis’s face sitting atop a couple of categories. Another chart near the locker room bore his name next to a category that read "Trough Yardage" or something of that nature, obviously referring to tough yardage or yards after contact.
How many times this year did we see DJ swarmed by tacklers, engulfed in a group of bodies that continued to move five, six yards after initial contact? That was 5-9, 215 lb Johnson, whose motor never stopped, often resulting in a whistle before the entire eleven man defensive unit could bring him to the ground.
Nevertheless, Johnson’s heart and motor weren’t enough to get him a Combine invitation, and he’s a little upset by that, just check his twitter. If anything, though, it’s given him more motivation and drive to achieve his goals. Will Johnson be a feature back in the league? Maybe not, but he can play a role as a change of pace back and a kick returner, he also brings intangibles that any NFL team would find valuable. It wasn’t enough to earn a Combine invite, but it should be enough to make an organization fall in love with him the way Hog Nation has.
Yearly, the Combine hosts anywhere from 300-330 draft prospects, there are only 256 selections in the draft, so the Combine is pretty crowded as is. Obviously, not everyone at the Combine will be drafted; on the other hand, missing the Combine doesn’t rule you out of the draft. Last year’s draft saw 42 players selected who weren’t at the Combine. A lack of Combine invite doesn’t guarantee failure in the NFL either; players like New England’s Wes Welker and Dallas nose tackle Jay Ratliff have gone on to have successful careers and make multiple Pro Bowls without going to the Combine. Johnson can, too, and I think he will.
After all, it’s not the size of the Hog in the fight that counts; it’s the size of the fight in the Hog.