First of all, it goes with out saying, no one is going to replace Duke.
Statistically (school record 3,519 yards rushing, all-time leaders all purpose yards, etc) he is the most productive back to ever come through Coral Gables.
But beyond that, he has been the heart and soul of the team the past 3 seasons.
But alas, he is on his way to the NFL, and the University of Miami HAS to move on.
Let's take a look at their options.
#1 Joe Yearby So. - Yearby looked good as Johnson's primary back-up in 2014, accumulating 509 yards, 5.9 ypc and a TD on the ground as well as one receiving. Despite being only 192 pounds, he proved his status as a 4/5 star recruit was well deserved by running very well both inside and outside of the tackles with a slashing style. Could Yearby make the leap and turn into an elite/all-conference player as a sophomore? With his talent and toughness it not only seems likely but probable. I am not quite sure he can quite reach Duke's level just yet, not to mention replace the explosiveness of #8. But as it stands now, he is the best option we know for sure will be on the roster.
#2 Gus Edwards Jr.- Edwards is a 235 pound pound freight train, with light feet. Edwards compiled 349 yards on 5.7 a touch, and also had 6 TDs on the ground.
He can produce the absolute spectacular at times:
But despite the occasional sublime run, he still runs with a pad level that is too high, and has yet to show any proficiency in the passing game or in protection. Edwards is a nice change of pace back, but when he is in the game there is little doubt Miami is going to run the ball. His overall skill set needs improvement.
#3 Trayone Gray So.- UM inexplicably burned his redshirt despite giving him just 4 carries for 24 yards in limited action as a true freshman. The former Carol City H.S. star is well know for his talents in the 305 though. Gray has great speed, and listed at 6'2 215 a frame that could fill out to 225/230. The talent is there, but the coaches will need to develop the former All Dade QB into a complete back.
#4 Walter Tucker Jr. - Tucker rarely (check that never) touched the ball in 2014, seeing time as a FB, despite being a former track athlete. Nonetheless he has the size (6'0 226), and athleticism, to be more of a factor in the offense if needed. For now it is more likely that Tucker continues to be a lead blocker for Yearby and others when UM uses two back sets.
2015 Verbal Recruits:
#1 Jordan Scarlett - The 4 star recruit out of St. Thomas Aquinas H.S. could still flip to FSU (gasp). But as it stands most prognosticators still see him bringing his talents to Coral Gables. Hold your breathe 'Canes fans, because he could be the key to the class. Blessed with great size(already about 210), and sub 4.5 speed, sick vision and balance, Scarlett is talented enough to make an impact as a true freshman and possibly be the #2 (if not #1) back at Miami by season's end IF he signs on NSD.
#2 Mark Walton - Fortunately for the 'Canes, Walton reclassified for 2015, and looks like he has no plans to go elsewhere come next Wednesday.
Walton's style is very similar to Yeaby's. Very strong for his size (5-10 185) and no nonsense into the hole. He may not be as spectacular as Duke or even Scarlett, but he can move the chains and plays with a ton of heart. This kid is sure to get some carries in 15' and could be a mainstay for years to come.
Other possibilities; Dexter Williams (not likely), Jordan Cronkite (also not likely).
Summary: Replacing a player like Duke Johnson is an impossible chore. But with the development of QB Brad Kaaya, UM may not need to rely quite so heavily on the running game. Kaaya will however, also miss Johnson in the passing game, as he really developed into a nice underneath weapon his final season with the Hurricanes. It will be up to Yearby to enhance that aspect of his game so that BK still has a security blanket out of the back field. Watch out for the combination of Walton and Scarlett to emerge as star freshmen as well while Yearby gets better all-around.
Stay tuned for more updates between now and NSD and beyond as we preview the 2015 Miami Hurricanes.