C.J. Johnson isn’t necessarily a guy a defender wants to tackle:
Even more so if it’s an undersized defensive back.
Johnson’s 6-foot-2, 225-pound frame is almost exactly the same as Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver AJ Brown. And we know how strong and physical he is. Johnson’s size is perhaps the most intriguing trait about this former East Carolina wideout.
He utilizes this size and strength to outduel defenders and has big hands (10 1/4”) and a great wingspan (79”) to add even more to the physical attributes that make him an attractive draft prospect.
Johnson had a breakout freshman campaign where he finished with 908 yards, breaking the ECU single-season freshman record. He was named to the Freshman All-American team by the Football Writers Association of America. Johnson took a step back during his sophomore and junior seasons before breaking out again in a senior season that almost never happened. He was suspended from the program indefinitely in early February 2022.
He earned his way back onto the field and got things churning again with 1,016 yards and 10 TDs on 67 receptions. Those numbers earned him All-AAC Second Team honors.
Being suspended is obviously something NFL teams don’t want to see. But I think it says a lot about Johnson brushing it off and returning to put together another impressive year.
One thing that stands out both on paper and on film is Johnson’s ability to pick up yards after the catch. He averaged 15.2 yards per reception last season and over 17 YPC during his four years at ECU. He had seven games with a reception of 30 or more yards and 10 games with a reception of 20 or more yards last season.
Johnson can find space and do damage in it:
His size also makes it difficult for him to bring down. In this matchup against No. 13 North Carolina State, Johnson had six receptions for 90 yards in a game that ECU lost by a point.
Something you can also briefly see in that touchdown catch above is Johnson finding a soft spot there in zone coverage, sitting down and making himself available.
For his size, he also has excellent body control:
Through his first three years, Johnson would play both slot and on the outside, but he strictly lined up in the slot last season. Finding those soft spots and being a large target make Johnson a great slot receiver. During ECU’s pro day on Tuesday, Johnson said this is the main conversation teams have been having with him.
Right now, the Greenville, North Carolina, wideout is projected to be a late Day 3 selection or even be an undrafted free agent. Why is that? What team wouldn’t want a big, reliable, sure-handed receiver that can make plays after the catch?
For starters, Johnson’s off-the-field issues could be a turnoff for some teams, as previously mentioned. He doesn’t have that elite breakaway speed, which will make it harder to pick up yards after the catch like he did in college.
Johnson also isn’t the greatest route runner and can be predictable with his breaks. This equals a lack of separation, something that he hasn’t needed to rely on much because he’s been able to get away with using his size to secure contested balls. This, however, won’t be as easy in the NFL.
All in all, with some work put in and in the right situation, I think Johnson can become one of a quarterback’s favorite targets in the league.