2016 Recruiting: Nate Johnson Comment Count

Brian June 30th, 2016 at 11:44 AM

Previously: Last year's profiles. S Josh Metellus, S Khaleke Hudson, CB David Long, CBLavert Hill, LB Elysee Mbem-Bosse, LB Devin Bush Jr., LB Devin Gil, LB Josh Uche, DE Ron Johnson, DT Michael Dwumfour, DT Rashan Gary, DE Carlo Kemp, OL Ben Bredeson, OL Michael Onwenu, OL Stephen Spanellis, TE Nick Eubanks, TE Sean McKeon, TE Devin Asiasi, WR Eddie McDoom.

Thompson's Station, TN – 5'11", 175


Scout 3*, NR overall
#65 WR
Rivals 3*, NR overall
#75 WR, #69 FL
ESPN 3*, NR overall
#180 WR, #31 TN
24/7 4*, #200 overall
#37 WR, #2 TN
Other Suitors ND, PSU, VT, Miami, Tenn, Purdue
YMRMFSPA Jeremy Gallon
Previously On MGoBlog Hello post from Ace.
Notes Twitter. Purdue decommit.



For a big chunk of his recruitment, Nate Johnson was a Purdue commit with a typical profile for a Purdue commit: a smattering of Group of Five and FBS offers, rankings deep in the wilderness of the three-star jungle, and little attention from the outside world. These days 247 has by far the most densely-packed thicket of articles I wade through to create these profiles, and after his June 25th commit there was total radio silence until November, when Vanderbilt offered him.

That was just the beginning. 87 catches for 1700 yards, 27 touchdowns, and a key role on a 15-0 state championship team tend to bring folks to wider attention. By December he was on the receiving end of a Gatling gun of offers: Tennessee. Miami. Penn State. Michigan. Virginia Tech. Notre Dame. He'd also picked up one recruiting site that was a strong advocate, 247. A very strong advocate:

…at Vanderbilt's elite camp … he was unreal. The current Vanderbilt players were out at the event and the entire team was going nuts every time Johnson would take a 1on1 rep. He was making DBs fall down, do 360s, just putting on a show. …one of the best route-runners in the country, has great hands, fantastic body control and he has a much bigger catch radius than his 5-11 size would suggest. … reminds me some of Christian Kirk down at Texas A&M.

All righty then. 247 was ahead of the curve here. By the time his first major offers came in they'd already moved him into solid four-star territory at #272, and validated by someone else noticing Johnson was pretty good they continued moving him up until he came to rest at #200.

It's unclear why it took so long for schools to catch on. Johnson's junior year—62 catches, 1300 yards—wasn't as bonkers as 2015 but neither was it easy to overlook. He also won the receiver MVP ("knows how to get open, has reliable hands and made play after play") at an Opening regional where he tested very well:

He has impressed this off-season with his route running, athleticism and strong hands. Johnson scored a 111.39 at the NIKE Opening Regional Camp in Columbus, posting a 4.6 flat in the forty, 4.03 in the shuttle, 39 vertical leap and a 35 foot powerball toss.

That verified 4.6 isn't elite, but it's plenty good enough. Donovan Peoples-Jones ran a 4.45 at the same camp. Meanwhile the shuttle and vertical leap are outstanding. Johnson's also a great triple jumper, and an interesting 247 article focused on some guys with excellent numbers in various leaping track events:

***45-9.25 Triple Jump
With a host of FCS level offers, Johnson has proven that he's capable of much more. His jump numbers are outstanding, he's tested well on The Opening circuit, he's an outstanding route-runner and he was extremely productive as a junior. What's not to like?

He's not the fastest guy ever but his athletic package is certainly four-star worthy. Ditto his production.

Schools eventually came around; ranking services not so much. ESPN is a huge outlier; their fire-and-forget tendencies come to the fore here as Johnson ends up their #180(!) wide receiver. While these evaluations are undated, this one was clearly issued before his senior year and never revisited. It finishes by saying he "will most likely get a look from a power 5 school before the recruiting process is over"; he was a Purdue commit by June 2015. As per usual the brief eval is more positive than that:

He is quick but not overly fast.  … Displays a burst off the LOS and immediately after a catch. … Catches the ball well. Displays a knack for going to the ball. He does not wait, he attacks throws and catches them with confident hands, away from his body.  … able to make defenders miss and gain more yards than other receivers would. Is elusive and has a knack for changing direction with quickness and authority.

The ranking is obviously absurd; the report fits in line with the others.

Meanwhile Scout didn't have an article on him until Michigan picked up interest in him and did not provide any scouting at all, not even the brief summary on most recruits' profiles. Rivals did have one thing on him before Tim Sullivan did his usual post-commit articles where he flags down the coach and a Rivals analyst, that an evaluation after he showed up at a Rivals camp in St Louis:

…continually got open deep down the field. Johnson's greatest attribute is his speed and there's no question that was on full display. He also showed strong, consistent hands and if it weren't for a few off-target passes, he wouldn't have lost more than a couple of reps all day. Johnson's ceiling is limited because of his size (5-11, 174), but his results were impressive.

When Sullivan poked them again after Johnson's Michigan commitmed, Woody Wommack described him as a "great slot receiver":

“He’s a shifty-type guy: I wouldn’t say he’s your pure speed guy, but at the same time, he’s got good football speed. He’s got really good hands, and he’s got a little bit of that elusive wiggle that people like to talk about so much. … generously listed at 5-11, … going to have to add a little bit of weight to absorb some of those hits. … could go in and be super-productive for a few years, especially if he’s paired with the right quarterback.”

His coach was rapturous, as coaches usually are:

"He's a terrific route-runner, number one. He's great in space, knows how to get separation, knows how to get open, knows how to recognize coverages. His hands were the best I've ever coached. His ability to run terrific routes and find the open spot in coverages, and then his ability after the catch is what separates him a little bit."

If this all sounds a lot like the just-profiled Eddie McDoom, yeah it does. Touch The Banner's evaluation is in the same vein:

…runs a variety of routes … gets separation off the line of scrimmage by varying his releases, and he finds soft spots in zone coverage. … He makes leaping catches, diving catches, and catches off of his shoe tops. … does a great job of fighting for extra yardage, breaking tackles, and moving his feet. I also like the way he plays the game – he runs his routes hard, is a willing blocker, and seems like a high-energy kid who plays with enthusiasm. … Johnson needs to get stronger in his upper body…There are times where he struggles to get separation because he gets overpowered at the line of scrimmage

These are both quick guys with good routes and hands who aren't 6'4". McDoom has more track bonafides that back up his football speed; I like his film better; he's a bit bigger; he gave a top 50 guy the business at the UA game. Johnson has a ton more high school production and may have gotten more impressive offers depending on exactly how commitable McDoom's were outside of M and Oregon. McDoom also did not have anyone talk about him as an A+ after-the-catch guy. Clint Brewster thinks Nate Johnson is one of those:

…elite skills after the catch … shiftiness and lateral agility in tight spaces is exceptional. Really good avoiding tackles and getting yards on the quick wide receiver screen. … Golden Tate type receiver that brings toughness and edge … plays bigger than his size. Snatches the ball nicely out in the front and has crisp hands.

Similar players with Johnson shading more towards a bubble screen merchant and slot extraordinaire and McDoom shading more towards a double-move con artist on the outside.

Johnson is another inside/outside guy; while McDoom is set to start on the outside Johnson will kick it off in the slot. Jedd Fisch told MGoBlue that Johnson was "very similar to a Grant Perry in terms of body size, skill set, and production" and that he sees him "playing inside at the outset." For his part, Johnson told 247's Barton Simmons that he doesn't think he'll redshirt and that he would play both F—which I assume is the slot—and Z—which is an outside position. He'll also be in contention for punt returns once Peppers departs.

Johnson seems relatively open to a redshirt in that 247 article but given the things people tend to say about him I suspect he'd secretly—or maybe not so secretly—be upset about not playing next year. 247 repeatedly emphasized a Dantonio-sized aspect of his personality:

Johnson has a well-earned chip on his shoulder. Despite dominating camps and putting up huge numbers on the field, the big offers and, for the most part, the big rankings haven't come his way. For that reason, he's always seemed like a kid that was going to land at the biggest name school that offered him.

This kid has always had a chip on his shoulder. He's ready.

And even Fisch invites you to read between the lines:

He'll come in with no shyness about him whatsoever, and a determination to work hard and be real good.

That chip grew to even vaster proportions when he got got Miss Universed at the Tennessee Mr. Football banquet. He was initially announced as the winner, and then Tennessteve Harvey went "whoops." They turned around and handed it to Tee Higgins. Tee Higgins, a junior. Tee Higgins, a junior wide receiver. I cited Johnson's inner D'antoni in our Signing Day podcast as a reason I was hyped about him, and while I've retreated somewhat from those expectations I still think a guy who made a gorillion catches in high school only to end up a Purdue commit for most of the cycle is a good bet to take his anger out on opponents.

Etc.:  Rooming with Rashan Gary.

Why Jeremy Gallon? Gallon was a pint-sized athlete pegged as a slot receiver by the world who turned out to be equally capable on the outside; his telepathic connection with Devin Gardner led to a record-breaking receiving season. Gallon was also a player one site was really high on despite his size—in his case it was Rivals. Gallon was significantly smaller than Johnson is and spent his high school career at QB, so Johnson has some advantages, especially early.

As Fisch mentions above, Grant Perry is another good comparable as a super-productive high school receiver who projects as a largeish slot and was largely overlooked until late in the process. I try to reserve YMRMFSPAs for players who we've actually seen develop into a finished product; otherwise this comparison probably would be Perry.

Guru Reliability: Low. All over the map. Scout has nothing. ESPN's sole evaluation is over a year old. Rivals and 247 have some stuff; big disagreement on the rankings.

Variance: Moderate-minus. Size and strength could be cause him to lack effectiveness in many situations and limit him to slot business only; still seems pretty likely to be an effective contributor underneath.

Ceiling: Moderate-plus. Not the fastest and not the biggest and is therefore unlikely to be an all-conquering force. Excellent quicks and route running could make him an A+ second or third banana. Like McDoom, a great option to fling at those cover-four safeties that are all the rage.

General Excitement Level: Moderate-plus. I've come down a bit from where I was in the immediate aftermath of Signing Day, when I thought he was the most underrated guy in the class by a mile. I still think it's nuts for a guy with Johnson's production and testing numbers to get overlooked by three of the four services; I still expect him to have a solid career at Michigan. It does seem clear that his upside isn't incredible.

Projection: A redshirt is possible if Johnson shows up and needs some time in the weight room before he can be effective, but as mentioned above I kind of figure he's going to be one of those guys who's itching to get on the field. First year is likely to be reminiscent of Grant Perry's 2015: he gets scattered snaps in the slot and comes on towards the end of the year. Perry's existence will mean he's less prominent than Perry was a year ago, which wasn't particularly prominent.

In year two both outside spots open up. Johnson will be a candidate for them; while he's not an ideal fit physically he's got the route chops and ability to snag deep balls for outside receiver. He'll have a ton of competition from his classmates, Moe Ways, Drake Harris, and hopefully a five star or two in the 2017 class. He's probably 20% to claim a starting spot. Even if he doesn't he should be an increasingly frequent part of the rotation. He's probably hoping that Perry slides outside in year two.


Everyone Murders

June 30th, 2016 at 11:53 AM ^

Michigan up by several against MSU or OSU.  Johnson receives a pass at the 25 yard line, runs a couple of yards, and then triple-jumps 45' 11" into the end zone.

Unsportsmanlike conduct?  Sure.  But he'd be a legend.


June 30th, 2016 at 12:01 PM ^

If Nate Johnson had a name like "Eddie McDoom",  "Derrick Alexander", "Megatron" or something a little snappier he'd be ranked much higher.   Chip on the shoulder is good.


June 30th, 2016 at 12:25 PM ^

It sure is nice to have some exciting WRs on their way in.

On a related note: God, I want Harris to hit really bad. It would be so nice if he could stay healthy and on the field.


June 30th, 2016 at 12:25 PM ^

I like Perry and hope he does well, but he hasn't shown anything that makes me think he can't be passed by one of these yound studs coming in.  Competition is going to be fierce everywhere and receiver is at the top of the list. 


June 30th, 2016 at 12:33 PM ^

Totally agree. Perry strikes me as a reliably high floor, limited ceiling type. Hopefully someone overtakes him eventually (I think it happens not this season but maybe next), but I think he'll be a solid option until then.


June 30th, 2016 at 1:02 PM ^

I think there's a few things working in Perry's favor.  For starters, he already has a full year in the system.  He knows the plays, knows his responsibilites and has been working with the QBs for a while.  At the beginning of last year, Perry definitely looked like a guy trying to learn the offense and fine tune his routes - but none of the wr's really stood out until Jake got more comfortable with the offense.  

Another benefit Perry had was the 3rd wr position last year was wide open.  Outside of Darboh and Chesson, there really weren't any experienced receivers heading into the 2015 season.

Perry also looked like a much improved player in the bowl game.  Not all world or anything, but a big jump from what we saw in the early part of last year.  While Chesson deservedly gets most of the praise regarding the wr's in the bowl game, Perry had the second most receptions and receiving yards against the Gators.

While by no means do I think Perry has the 3rd wr spot locked down, I don't think it's going to be that easier for these guys to pass him, especially early in the year.

True Blue Grit

June 30th, 2016 at 1:14 PM ^

Drew Dileo or Ken Higgins type guys.  He makes big catches when the chains need to be moved.  His TD catch in the bowl game against Florida showed the potential.  Still, he's going to have a lot of competition and will need to share the field with a number of guys, which will cut down on how many catches he ultimately gets. 


June 30th, 2016 at 1:36 PM ^

Agreed. Perry was a true freshman WR last year, and as has been discussed frequently the WR position is one of the toughest to lock down and contribute as a freshman.

Perry really came on near the very tail end of the season, especially in the bowl game. Again, as a TRUE freshman. Dude still has three years left to play and will assuredly get better over time.

If Perry starts over these highly talented freshmen, that will not be a knock on the freshmen. I no longer expect Perry to have any games similar to Utah. He also showed promise as a blocking WR, and that was the one thing he did extremely well at times in the Utah game. I think we will see Perry play with either a McDoom or Johnson on the outside if all pan out as top options. I wouldn't expect Perry to just all of a sudden hit the bench unless he does something dumb that requires disciplinary actions or shows a lack of motivation/toughness compared to the other guys. Again, Perry seems to be a guy who impresses coaches based off his freshman contributions and probably means that he is a "hard work" kid Harbaugh in particular covets - I think Perry will be a name we hear a lot before he leaves.


June 30th, 2016 at 12:31 PM ^

Brian, did you cool on him to ensure the D'antonini chip stayed on his shoulder? Did you fear your praise was what he was looking for and would cause him to lose his edge? Well played.

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June 30th, 2016 at 12:41 PM ^

sounds like a Wes Welker-type. Fast but not elite speed where football speed seems a bit better than actual speed. Great route-running, quick moves, and great hands.


June 30th, 2016 at 12:50 PM ^

This entire post seems extremely bearish relative to the talent you see in his film. He consistently lays out and makes incredible catches and has very good yac. I'm very surprised to see him considered with a low ceiling just because of his "40 speed" and size when he's a slot type


June 30th, 2016 at 6:53 PM ^

Not good enough, Jefe, not nearly good enough.
Nate will combine the best elements of Golden Tate, Wes Welker, Percy Harvin, and maybe Percy Jackson!
WR screens, end arounds, double reverses... just some of the excitement we've been waiting for around these parts since 2007! He's bringing it - his 70 rec, 1700 yds & 45 TDs in HS are just the tip of the iceberg.

Goggles Paisano

July 1st, 2016 at 3:39 PM ^

I did not interpret it as bearish at all.  It is a nice write for a player that had great numbers and great film.  He is limited size wise and that may be an issue for major D1 football.  That is a reasonable assumption to make.  I really loved his film and was more than happy he came back into this class.  He is not going to be Braylon, but he should be able to be a big contributor for his career.  I keep thinking he is like a more athletic Drew Dileo - that really solid player you can always rely on.   

Painter Smurf

June 30th, 2016 at 12:55 PM ^

Kid looks like a player - had not watched his film until now, and his film is excellent.  Lack of elite speed and size is not a worry - hands, route-running, and quickness can get you quite far as a college WR, as we have seen in AA and elsewhere.

If this kid had signed in the years from late-Carr through Hoke, he'd be a no-brainer for early playing time and tons of snaps based on his skills.  With JH now stocking the WR and TE corps, he'll have more competition.  Good sign for his potential considering JH and Jedd stuck with him when other propects were beating down the door late in the cycle.  Will now have to keep an eye on him.


June 30th, 2016 at 12:56 PM ^

About M's future at the wr spot. Whoever comes out will be damn good. Starting to feel a lot better about 2017 when there are eleventeen holes to fill in the starting O


June 30th, 2016 at 1:17 PM ^

I think the Gallon comp is pretty much right on (so many examples in the film, esp around 2min mark), provided that Johnson becomes a plus blocker like Gallon did by his JR/SR years.  Actually, with these similarly skilled smaller WRs, blocking could be the difference in terms of who gets that third banana spot.

Do not see the Golden Tate comparison though, Tate was a burner 4.4 type.





True Blue Grit

June 30th, 2016 at 1:21 PM ^

impressive.  You rarely see players that amass this number of receptions at the H.S. level.  You'd have to think this is a big plus for a receiver who wants to see the field early in college.  All that experience catching and running with the ball will make him more refined than a lot of guys coming in. 


June 30th, 2016 at 4:05 PM ^

We return our three wideouts from last year, and add some talented guys like Ways and Harris. Then there's MCDOOM in the same boat.

On top of that, we have a huge assortment of blocky/catchy guys who are going to dominate playing time. I would almost bet that our Butt-Bunting-WheatlyJr-Hill sets are more common than three wide (or that when we do we'll flex a TE, probably Butt instead). Barring injury I don't see enough snaps to make up for the cost of their redshirts.


July 4th, 2016 at 10:06 AM ^

Hope you're right, but it looks like multiple freshmen WRs will play. (And need to play.)

Just look at the spring game. Minus Chesson/Darboh, we could hardly put guys on the field. Ways and Harris were here last year too; since they haven't broken through yet, there's a decent chance they get caught from behind.

There's a reason Harbaugh brought in a platoon of WRs: We were badly lacking there. Throwing Perry out there at Utah last year as a true FR said it all. Between the need to spell the top three and the need to prepare for 2016 injuries/2017 graduations, we'll likely see multiple freshmen play.

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July 1st, 2016 at 11:08 AM ^

Played from '79 through '82. Had great quickness, tremendous ability to get open, caught everything, and was very elusive once he had the ball. He wasn't Denard fast—he didn't outrun everybody, as his Wolverine Historian highlight film will attest, but he was plenty fast enough considering his other skills. I'm not saying that Johnson will come close to what this other guy achieved, but the similarities stand out to me.


July 1st, 2016 at 1:56 PM ^

I'm so excited to see him play. when it was rumored we'd lose him, I got disappointed. I think he's got some great potential to be a play maker. something that offense desperately needs. immediate impact. I think he's a candidate for that.