Michigan has only recruited late-rising Thompson's Station (TN) Independence WR Nate Johnson for a few weeks. Among the flurry of recent scholarship offers to Johnson, however, the Wolverines' stood out the most, and he committed yesterday while on his official visit.
Johnson had previously committed to Purdue over the summer, but as he accrued major offers during a breakout senior season—one that culminated in a state title—he opened his recruitment back up. Johnson is the 21st commit in Michigan's 2016 class and the third at receiver, joining Brad Hawkins and Ahmir Mitchell.
|NR WR||3*, #98 WR||3*, 72, #170 WR||
4*, 92, #40 WR,
3*, #88 WR,
Johnson's rankings cover quite a spread; he goes from unranked on Scout to a top-250 four-star on 247. That'll happen with prospects who break out late in the process; we'll see where he winds up as the recruiting services take a harder look at him following his Michigan commitment and strong senior year.
Johnson should be destined for the slot at Michigan. He's listed at 5'11", 170-175 pounds on three of the four sites; ESPN gives him an extra inch.
[Hit THE JUMP for scouting, video, and the rest.]
After holding mostly FCS offers through his junior season, Johnson started attracting Power 5 interest with strong performances during the last camp cycle. He earned position MVP honors at the Columbus regional for The Opening in March, per 247's Steve Wiltfong:
The Thompson's Station (Tenn.) Independence 2016 Nate Johnson couldn't be ignored sharing the field with several high-profile players of the same position. Johnson knows how to get open, has reliable hands and made play after play.
Johnson also stood out at April's Quarterback Flight School in Atlanta in a field that included the likes of Shea Patterson and Jacob Eason, earning the #9 spot on Rivals' Woody Wommack's list of top camp performers ($):
On a day where big targets were stealing the show, Johnson did his part to represent for the slot wide receivers. He showed good quickness and a nice ability to cut without losing any speed. Johnson shot off of the line and was impressive on quick-hitting routes. He also showed the ability to run under deep balls when the quarterbacks let it rip downfield.
At May's Rivals camp in St. Louis, Johnson again caught Wommack's attention ($):
Johnson was in the MVP discussion at the wide receiver position late into the day on Sunday after he 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 and he certainly looks like he should be able to find a home at the FBS level.
247's Clint Brewster has a free breakdown of Johnson's senior film; he thinks Johnson "instantly upgrade[s]" the receiver group at Michigan:
No question when you put on the tape that Johnson has elite skills after the catch. He can line up out wide and beat cornerbacks deep on the "Go" route or line up in the slot and use his quicks. Johnson's shiftiness and lateral agility in tight spaces is exceptional. Really good avoiding tackles and getting yards on the quick wide receiver screen. A legitimate threat to score whenever he touches the ball. In the mold of Golden Tate type receiver that brings toughness and edge to the position and has versatility to line up in different spots on the line of scrimmage.
Like Brewster, The Wolverine's Tim Sullivan sees Johnson as an impact player after the catch ($):
Johnson is an outstanding fit for the slot receiver position. Though he doesn't have the height to win the one-on-one match ups on the outside, that shouldn't be an issue inside where he can use speed and quickness to find openings against linebackers and safeties.
That speed is an impressive asset, and combined with Johnson's route-running acumen, allows him to get open time and time again at the high school level. While the competition in college will naturally be tougher, he may have better match ups going against bigger, stiffer players than true cornerbacks. He's able to use double moves to get deep in high school, and is also savvy after the catch.
Finally, Barton Simmons outlined why 247 ranks Johnson higher than anyone else in a highly recommended free post today:
Then the season came and Johnson validated his camp performances and was just unstoppable. It was a crime that he didn't win Mr. Football. He played with a quarterback that he had been with for years and their offense was crazy good (undefeated with very few close contests) but Johnson made it tick. He's 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. He's also added good weight and strength as he's progressed in high school. At this point, he reminds me some of Christian Kirk down at Texas A&M in terms of body type.
Johnson looks like a slot receiver first and foremost; he's a great fit at that position and the competition for snaps should be wide open next year.
Johnson held offers from Army, Miami (YTM), Northwestern, Penn State, Purdue, South Carolina, Temple, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and a long list of FCS programs. He picked up all of those major offers within the last year.
Johnson is just the third Power 5 commit from Independence in the Rivals era (2002-present), joining four-star 2014 Tennessee signee Vic Wharton (who since transferred to Cal) and two-star 2014 Mizzou signee Finis Stribling IV.
The dearth of prospects is largely a product of Independence's program only being 11 years old. Just a couple weeks ago, Johnson caught two touchdown passes to bring the program their first state championship in Tennessee's 5A classification.
Johnson has been remarkably productive over the last two seasons. Per 247, he caught 62 passes for 1290 yards and 17 touchdowns as a junior, and he followed that up with a 87-1713-27(!) line as a senior.
FAKE 40 TIME
Johnson posted a 4.60 electronic time at a SPARQ event (presumably the Opening regional), which gets zero FAKEs; that's a good, not-quite-elite time for a high school slot. Johnson posted a strong 111.39 overall SPARQ score, one bolstered by a very impressive 39-inch vertical. This summer 247 highlighted him as a prospect whose impressive springiness is an indicator of future success on the football field:
Nate Johnson, WR, Franklin (Tenn.) Independence
***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?
That kind of explosiveness not only shows up in straight-line speed, but also in critical areas like getting off the line and bursting in and out of breaks.
Junior highlights and single-game reels can be found on his Hudl page.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
Johnson displays a level of skill and polish on tape that should have him in the mix for snaps in the slot as a true freshman. Michigan didn't utilize the slot much this year with freshman Grant Perry getting most of the available snaps; Johnson and potentially ATH Chris Evans should provide competition, with Johnson more of a true receiver and Evans more of a dual receiving/running threat.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Michigan can stand pat at receiver with two outside guys (Hawkins and Mitchell) and a slot (Johnson); Johnson's commitment at the very least should eliminate the possibility of another pure slot—namely Pie Young—joining the class. The Wolverines may continue to pursue receivers who can play on the outside—Donnie Corley, Dylan Crawford (who can play inside or outside), and Donald Stewart—if they find the space.
There are currently six spots left in a class that'll hit 27 commits, though Michigan should be able to take one or two more after grayshirts and the like are sorted out. Top remaining targets include DT Rashan Gary, TE Isaac Nauta, OT Jean Delance, RB Kareem Walker, ILB Devin Bush Jr, CB David Long, OG Terrance Davis, ILB Dontavious Jackson, CB LaVert Hill, WDE Levi Onwuzurike, and OLB Jonathan Jones.
Here's the class as it currently stands: