Michigan football is no stranger to landing commitments from under-the-radar recruits early and watching them rocket up the rankings (see: Charbonnet, Zach), and it appears they have another excellent candidate to do just that in 2020 AZ QB JD Johnson. Oklahoma signee Spencer Rattler, a five-star prospect ranked #23 overall in the composite, started ahead of Johnson at Pinnacle HS until Rattler was ruled ineligible for the remainder of the season in late October after violating the school district’s code of conduct policy. Johnson turned heads in his final four games under center as he led Pinnacle to Arizona’s 6A semifinals before losing to Perry. His performance garnered praise from writers such as 247’s Blair Angulo, who said that “…there's no question that Johnson was set to see his stock rise considerably this coming spring evaluation period so it was good for the Wolverines to get Johnson up to campus for a visit shortly after extending the scholarship offer and locking him down.”
Thanks to the wealth of broadcasts on Pinnacle football’s website, we can get in on the ground floor. I decided to cut up Pinnacle’s 6A quarterfinal win over Red Mountain for one exceedingly simple reason: at #12 in the state and #728 nationally, they were the highest-ranked team Johnson started against. He was a big reason Pinnacle won, too, completing 17 of 27 attempts for 354 yards (13.1 YPA) and two touchdowns. He also ran seven times for a non-sack-adjusted 28 yards, with a long of 12.
[Hit THE JUMP for film and the scouting report]
JD Johnson Every-Throw/Run Film
There’s a lot to like about Johnson’s game, especially given that he’s a junior with just a few games of starting experience. One thing that stood out in that regard was his excellent ability to process under duress. For example, you’d expect most young quarterbacks who recover a fumble off a botched handoff like the one at 00:39 to just tuck the ball and run. Instead, Johnson continues to scan the field, sees that there are more yards to be gained by throwing than running, and fires an absolute inch-perfect bomb down the sideline that’s intentionally short so only his receiver can get it. And he does that off his back foot while three defenders are about to hit him, no less. Over and over again, Johnson put the ball in a position that aided his receiver and protected against turnovers: at 00:10, Johnson leaves it intentionally short based on position of the safety; at 3:45 he delivers such a well-thrown ball, putting it on the outside edge of the receivers frame and inside the sideline so that the receiver can grab it and the defensive back, who had inside leverage, can’t; then 3:55 is just an absolute dime. He also showed skill at changing speeds, as at 00:55 and 1:59 where he put zip on the ball (and not coincidentally stepped into his throw), then putting touch on the ball at 1:22, 1:30 and 2:26.
Johnson doesn’t force the ball into dangerous spots, instead opting to throw it away as he does at 1:14 when he doesn’t see what he wants in the end zone; I only have one instance of a dangerous throw in my notes, that coming at 3:14. Relatedly, Johnson throws the ball where he thinks the receiver will be, not where the receiver is on release. You can see this at 3:37 thanks to the defensive pass interference and again at 4:42. Johnson typically will lock onto one side of the field but not necessarily one receiver, and there are times (4:16, for example) where his Madden vision cone encompasses the entire field, working through his three-receiver progression to the left before finding a receiver open to the right.
He has a generally good feel for how to avoid danger, changing his arm slot at 00:35 to sling it past the leaping linebacker and often hitching up in the pocket to force the rush past himself. Johnson’s feet are another avenue of danger avoidance. This was evidenced by his multiple scrambles, some of which required some elusiveness (while only taking one sack). He’s relatively fast for a 6’4” quarterback, but I think the recruiting services are right in listing him as pro-style quarterback. His arm is more dangerous than his legs, but he’ll fit Michigan’s system in that he can run a zone read and be a legitimate keep threat. That happened at 00:20 where Johnson flashed some speed on the ZR pull, and you can see he would beat the DE down the field if he hadn’t been shoved out of bounds.
There are no clear-cut negatives in Johnson’s game. There are, of course, nitpicky things for him to improve upon. The one that was most prevalent was a tendency to throw off his back foot, though even then he showed impressive accuracy off said foot on targets 20 yards or closer (see 5:11). Johnson’s deep ball is an area that may not necessarily require improvement but will require more film to properly evaluate, as he didn’t throw more than 40 yards downfield; given the way the game went, there wasn’t a need for that. He’s very accurate on throws up to 40 yards, but the dearth of anything longer makes it tough to gauge where the upper edge is for accurate throws. The two longest throws in my notes came at 1:50, a 40-yard strike thrown off Johnson’s front foot, and 5:33, a ball the receiver has to slow to catch and could either have been a miss or indicative of arm strength.
Johnson has the height, touch, and decision-making skill to succeed at the next level. He does a nice job changing velocity depending on the situation and avoids forcing throws into dangerous locations. Johnson didn’t often have to look past his first read but showed an ability to scan the field, sometimes working to a third or fourth read before delivering. When there’s nothing open, Johnson is fast enough to keep a defense honest; his running game was at its best when running the zone read, which makes him a fit for Michigan’s offense as it was run last season.
Johnson does not appear to have Miltonesque arm artillery, but he shows excellent accuracy on throws 40 yards downfield or closer. He maintains that accuracy when throwing off his back foot, one of his few bad habits. Johnson pairs his accuracy with good pocket presence, stepping up in the pocket to evade the rush and keeping his eyes downfield when the pocket isn’t clean.