Draft Déjà Vu; Collin Johnson

Everyone has had that déjà vu feeling before; seeing something you feel like you have already seen. In this series, we are looking at players who almost declared for the 2019 draft but returned for another year of college football. We’ll take you through their strengths and highlight some areas for improvement for the coming year as these players are expected to be near the top of their respective positions throughout the coming CFB season and therefore should be pretty high draft picks, should everything go to plan.

In this week’s installment of Draft Déjà Vu we’ll be taking a peak at Texas wide receiver, Collin Johnson.

I’m not going to lie, I really, really like Collin Johnson after studying 6 games of his from the past couple of years and I’m really looking forward to watching him for his final year at Texas in 2019. I’m hoping to see him continue to grow, both as a player and on the stat sheet, like he has done each year in Austin so far.

As usual in Draft Déjà Vu, I’ll mainly be examining Johnson’s strengths, because, you know, it’s June and it’s nice to be positive about players when they still have a year to improve on things. I’ll also talk about areas where I’d like to see improvement in 2019 too in order for him to be a top player in the class, which I believe is a possibility, even in a jam packed receiver class.

Let’s get into it then…

First, we’ll wind back to Johnson’s sophomore season for the Longhorns in 2017, where he recorded a very respectable 54 receptions for 765 yards and a pair of touchdowns. I feel like Johnson was only really starting to understand how to use his body at his point, he’s a little raw in this first clip from a game against USC but the signs are there.

Johnson is at the bottom of the screen in UT’s super spready offense. He beats press coverage off the line (a feature of Johnson’s game that will make you feel déjà vu over and over again) and is able to bring in the football through contact. I mean, he’s not exactly Randy Moss in this clip but he’s a sophomore and he gets the job done.

Just a taster of the big play ability that would blossom later on.

Fast forward a year or so and we’re now in 2018 and we will see how much development has taken place in comparison with the catch against USC.

This time Johnson is in the slot in a 5-wide spread formation (I told you this offense was super spready), he again beats his man off the line with minimal disruption of his route, despite a jersey tug by the defender, tracks the ball perfectly over his shoulder and brings in the football, with arms extended away from his body. The defender has absolutely no chance and the jersey tug shows he knew the writing was on the wall early on. That’s an NFL play, right there.

These first two clips have shown Johnson absolutely eat up press coverage and have shown his ability to give himself a clean release… So maybe the answer is to sit off him? Wrong! Just take a look what happened to TCU when Johnson was allowed to gain a head of steam and was matched up on a safety…

I mean, Johnson is a mismatch for most corners at 6’6 and as we’ll come on to later on, he can move too, so leaving a safety to deal with him just isn’t going to work.

Also note the subtle inside head fake and then a burst of acceleration before another perfect catch after tracking the ball over his shoulder. This isn’t just a receiver that wins with athleticism, Collin Johnson wins between the ears to gain separation too.

Let’s talk about that actually; separation. If there’s one thing that is absolutely essential when playing wide receiver in today’s NFL, it’s gaining separation. Now, it doesn’t matter how you do it, whether it be via pure speed on either the vertical or horizontal planes or by separating in the air and being more physical at the catch point but you need to be able to put some space between yourself and the defender, or you’re not going to make it.

Collin Johnson may be 6’6 and 220 lbs but he’s far from a 50/50 ball guy who just gets in the field running 9’s or posts or eats in the Red Zone… oh no. He separates really well in a variety of ways.

First up;

Johnson accelerates quickly, eating up the cushion afforded to him by his corner. The corner must respect Johnson’s deep play ability too, so Johnson uses that against him and runs a slick comeback route and when he makes the catch, he has a healthy 3 yards of separation. Also note the intelligence of this route; Johnson gets well beyond the sticks before making the comeback – fantastic understanding and route running.

The only criticism I would have here is that I’d like to see him extend his arms and meet the football as it arrives, instead of body catching it. I’ll come on to this more later on.

Now let’s see Johnson gain space on a longer route and on a break that isn’t just along the vertical plane of his route tree.

That previous clip was again from the USC game in 2017, now we go to the game between Texas and USC in 2018, with Johnson at the top of the screen.

Johnson uses another little fake, as though he’s going to run vertically up the sideline but make an in cut around 15 yards into his route. The fake to the outside just makes the defender shift to the outside by a step or two and even though Johnson’s cut isn’t that sharp, he’s still in yards of space between two defenders when he makes the catch down low. I feel this also shows that Johnson knows how to manipulate zone coverage to his advantage – something quite advanced and will stand him in good stead in the pros.

Ok. So we know Johnson is a respected deep threat and can use this, along with his route running ability to find space to make a play but what if he’s got a defender on him, can he still make a catch?

You bet.

This is from later on in the USC game in 2018 and a great example of Johnson using his size to go up and over a defender in order to make a play. Much cleaner than how he brought it in, in 2017 at the top of the article.

Lastly, I’m going to show you just what I meant earlier when I said that Johnson doesn’t move like your everyday 6’6 human being.

Is that even normal? Off coverage, (did you not learn TCU?) the cushion is gone in seconds, nice post route between two defenders and Johnson goes full superman to bring in the football for a spectacular touchdown.

So like I said and as you may be able to tell, I’m a fan of #9 in burnt orange. However, where do I want to see him make strides in 2019?

As I mentioned earlier, I need to see Johnson gobble up these sorts of catches that hit him in the numbers. Johnson doesn’t drop much but as I mentioned earlier, this wide receiver class is choc-full of talent and if Johnson wants to be a first round pick, he’s going to have to bring in the routine catches as well as the ones that get fans out of their seats.

The next point of improvement is perhaps isn’t something that he can directly affect and may be something more to do with how he’s used in the Texas offense.

I’d love to see Johnson get more usage in the red zone. The guy is 6’6 and has shown he can both find space and go up and over defenders so why do the coaching staff not call more plays for him?

The next two plays are two consecutive plays from the USC game in 2018.

On both plays, I feel like Johnson had a much better chance of scoring a touchdown than the plays that actually occurred.

First of all, I bemuses me how much Sam Ehlinger backs himself as a runner and Texas allow him the freedom to create with his legs like he’s Michael Vick in Madden 2004. On the second play, the pre snap movement left Johnson one-on-one… Just let your best player make a play.

With this in mind, Johnson has got to make more of plays like this when they come his way;

Yes. It’s a tough catch, through contact but those catches are what make a good receiver a great receiver. I want to see Johnson make the toughest catches in 2019.

The last thing I want to talk about in terms of improvements is blocking.

I know it’s not a huge part of the repertoire of most NFL wide receivers but at Johnson’s size, he should be using his frame better. I also feel he could just use a little more nastiness in his game overall.

This clip is from the 2018 season opener against Maryland.

In a tight game, in the 4th quarter, Texas needed this play and Johnson should be burying the smaller corner but he just isn’t physical enough and the screen is blown up for a loss.

Texas went on to lose the game.

To sum up, I think that Johnson is one of the best wide receivers in the college game. This will most certainly be reflected when I release my top 5 positional rankings in the near future. I believe that if he continues to grow as a player and improve on certain aspects of his game, Collin Johnson will be a first round player because he’s a damn good receiver and he has rare physical attributes; as they say, you can’t teach height.

After watching an interview Johnson did with the Longhorn network back in February. He revealed that he played the second half of his junior year with a knee injury which was part of the reason why he stayed in school for another year. Sounds like a wise decision and I must say, he comes across as a mature and level-headed young man in all the interviews that I’ve seen, which will be a big positive for me when I come to do his final evaluation next year.

But thankfully, before then, we get another year of Collin Johnson at UT, hopefully with his injury behind him and that’s something to get very excited about.

Keep your eyes peeled next Tuesday for the next installment of Draft Déjà Vu

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