For the last eight months, since haven’t gone as planned for former Texas Longhorns wide receiver Colin Johnson.
After receiving a return-to-school grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Committee, Johnson announced that he would return for his senior season — he wanted to get his degree and win a championship at Texas. The opportunity to play another year with his older brother, running back Kirk Johnson, surely played a role as well.
Coming off a breakout junior season that saw Johnson barely come up short of 1,000 yards receiving due to a late-season knee injury that forced him to sit out against Texas Tech, the expectations were high for Johnson to close out his Longhorns career on a high note.
Unfortunately, that never happened.
Against LSU, Johnson played through hamstring tightness that forced him to miss the next three games. He was able to return for three games, including 100-yard receiving efforts against TCU and Kansas State, but then aggravated his hamstring and missed three more games.
Two straight losses while Johnson was out derailed any remaining hopes that Johnson had of winning a championship at Texas.
Preparation for the NFL Combine didn’t go any better — Johnson wasn’t able to answer questions about his speed after a hip flexor injury kept him from any speed testing in Indianapolis. Normally, the remedy for missing the combine is simple — just run at the Pro Day — but the Pro Day was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving a massive question mark for scouts.
Some of Johnson’s inadequacies also show up on film, however, and are largely consistent with the issues faced by many large receivers. Johnson struggles to create separation, struggles to sink his hips as a route runner, and doesn’t add a lot of value after the catch.
The result is a player who lacks the top-end speed to serve as a vertical threat and mostly has to settle for winning 50/50 balls down the sideline.
Johnson is quite good at that — the technical elements of how to use his physicality and length to beat press coverage are strong attributes that often put Johnson in a position to use his height and ability to high-point the football to come down with contested catches. His body control is an asset and he has all the leaping ability that he needs for a 6’6 receiver.
Those are key reasons why most opponents opted to play a safety over the top last year to keep Johnson from beating the coverage quickly and picking up chunk yardage on fade routes.
Releases at the line of scrimmage are an area where Johnson has improved tremendously since arriving at Texas, too, so perhaps there is some hope that he can improve in some of his less proficient areas. However, it is concerning that his physical advantages over college cornerbacks will decrease, leaving Johnson with a smaller margin of error to make what were already difficult catches in college.
The result is a limited player in some significant ways, but Johnson has the potential for a long and productive NFL career due to his high character, work ethic, height, and ability to serve as a third-down and red-zone weapon.
Draft projections have Johnson coming off the board between the third and the fifth rounds, putting him in position to become the first Texas player drafted in 2020.