Texas is back. If you follow college football you’ve heard that phrase far too often over the past few years, just to have it debunked in the early season. After an embarrassing, and unforgettable loss to lowly Kansas in 2016, the Longhorns plucked Tom Herman away from Houston. Expectations were up, and fans set their sights high once again. After slightly surpassing the .500 mark last year, the Longhorns bring back their quarterback, Sam Ehlinger, who was named this seasons’ starter over this past weekend. They also bring back their primary offensive weapon, wide receiver Collin Johnson for the upcoming season.
Ehlinger was a freshman last year, Johnson a sophomore, which means there’s tons of room for growth. Ehlinger finished the season with a sub-60% completion rate in the defensively hampered Big 12, good for 9th out of a possible 12. Collin Johnson deserves praise though, putting up nearly 800 yards receiving as a sophomore last season. This season, the growth as a junior alongside Ehlinger is incredibly important. Johnson’s scouting report is unimpressive, but I would wouldn’t write him off of NFL draft boards just yet.
Through my preliminary wide receiver scouting of nearly 20 wide receivers earlier in the summer, I had Johnson ranked as my 12th receiver for the upcoming draft. After focusing on his game from a different perspective, I had bumped him up to 8th. Now, entering the season it looks like he’ll sit at 6th. Whereas with just about every receiver in this class you can see their above average traits, Collin Johnson was different, and let me tell you why.
First things first, when I study players on Big 12 offenses, it’s definitely a consideration of mine that the defences are generally far below average. This ultimately makes numbers far less important than they already are. Johnson failed to show the desirable traits of a top 5 receivers though; route running, footwork, speed, body control, deceptive abilities, hands; especially in such a deep class. His footwork looks below average, his route running is nothing special, his hand usage and body control aren’t spectacular by any means. My initial reasoning for ranking him at 12th is that he high points the ball really well, and his frame will give him an opportunity at the next level.
While reviewing his tape afterwards, I realized two things. The first of which was that his quarterback play did not help him at all. Ehlinger constantly missed him on open throws and he was also unable to throw pinpoint passes in small windows. The second was that he simply wins; jump balls, contested catches; he wins so often. This is the important part of Johnson’s game, he’s not going to flash insane speed or above average route nuances, but it’s hard to deny his abilities when he wins his routes as often as he does. It’s impressive how often Johnson comes down with catches that he has no business even having a chance on. The problem is that winning jump balls and contested catches isn’t necessarily a trait that can get you drafted.
His scouting report reminds me of another wide receiver playing out of the state of Texas. Texans’ receiver DeAndre Hopkins has made it to where he is by having no specific elite traits. His body control is above average, but that only developed in the NFL. When Hopkins entered the draft out of Clemson, he was a really well-rounded wide receiver, but similarly to Johnson, there was no single trait that explained Hopkins’ dominance.
To be clear, I do not think Collin Johnson is the next DeAndre Hopkins. This is also not a player comparison because their styles are vastly different. Simply put, Hopkins’ success in the NFL gives me comfort in believing in Collin Johnson to become a reliable pro receiver. Having only scored twice last season, he needs to be able to find the end zone more often as a 6’6 receiver, and he needs to work on his route running because having a large frame won’t get you to the NFL by itself. Pair height with above average route running or hand usage and you’ve likely found an NFL starter. Johnson’s production probably won’t match that of Hopkins’ as a junior, but Ehlinger’s throwing deficiencies will play into that. Johnson doubled his freshman numbers last season, and it would be sensible to expect another large jump as a junior.
This upcoming wide receiver draft class is full of very talented players. In fact, by the time my top 8 receivers declare for the draft, I expect each of them to grade out higher than DJ Moore, my WR1 from 2018. Johnson may not be as surefire as some ranked behind him such as Arcega-Whiteside and Ahmmon Richards, but it’s too early in the process to worry about sure things. It’s time to make predictions and assume improvement and subsequent production spikes, and my gut tells me that Johnson’s ability to win difficult plays will separate him from many other receivers, as well as translate to the NFL. Look out for Johnson to crack the top 5 receivers in the upcoming class before the draft.
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