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
|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|
|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.