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Returning Dominators: No. 6 The Rocket Man

In this series, I’m breaking down the top-10 returning college wide receivers from 2017 by dominator rating (DR). If you’re unfamiliar with dominator rating, it’s a receiver’s combined market share of receiving yardage and touchdowns. While it’s only one element in receiver evaluation – and requires age and experience adjustments to tell the full story – it provides an excellent snapshot of a player’s role within his offense.

Consider this an early look at potential rookies in the 2019 class to get a jump-start on the draft season. I’ll take a look back at their prospect profiles and rankings from high school, their production at the college level, and prospects for the NFL. The 2017 countdown included Michael GallupCourtland SuttonAnthony Miller, and Richie James.

Number six in our countdown is a do-it-all athlete who makes splash plays on offense and special teams in the MAC.

Diontae Johnson – Toledo

Johnson is a 5-foot-11, 181-pound junior wide receiver from Ruskin, Florida. At Lennard High School, Johnson began his playing career as a quarterback before switching to wide receiver as a senior. He caught 35 passes for 1,017 yards and nine touchdowns but garnered very little recruiting interest as a prospect, mostly from FCS schools. He had offers from Eastern Illinois, Ball State, and Alcorn State before signing with Toledo.

As a true freshman, Johnson played in 11 games and was fifth in receptions with 14 and fourth in yards at 237 (8 percent market share) with three touchdowns (13 percent market share). The majority of his touches came as the primary kick returner for the Rockets, converting 33 returns into 754 yards. Special teams production can be an important signal, especially for small school players. That Johnson was able to contribute almost 1,000 total yards as a freshman and an 11 percent dominator rating, mostly out of nowhere, is encouraging.

He was set to become a larger part of the offense in 2016 but a foot injury ended his season before it could begin. Johnson was given a redshirt year and maintained his sophomore eligibility for 2017.

Year Class Games Rec Rec Yds Rec TD Team Passing Team TDs MS Yards MS TDs Dominator
2015 Fr. 11 14 237 3 3,036 24 0.08 0.13 0.11
2017 So. 14 74 1,278 13 3,919 28 0.33 0.46 0.40

With Kareem Hunt in the NFL, Johnson became the focal point of the Rockets’ offense. He easily led the team in every receiving category, securing 74 receptions for a school-record 1,278 yards (33 percent market share). He topped 100 yards six times, including games of 166, 144, and 142 receiving yards. Johnson found paydirt 13 times through the air (46 percent market share), which was tied for fourth-most in the NCAA with James Washington and Tre’Quan Smith.

We want to see high DR’s along with strong breakout age in wide receiver prospects. Johnson’s lost year due to injury will likely hurt the latter, but a dominator rating of 0.40 in just his second season is very encouraging.

Level of competition can be an issue, and while the MAC conference is far from the bottom-rung, any game against a Power 5 conference team immediately comes into focus. In 2017, Toledo played then 14th ranked Miami and lost 52-30. Johnson caught eight passes for 66 yards and two touchdowns and added another 94 yards on kick returns. This year against the Hurricanes, Johnson again scored twice, going for 119 yards on six receptions.

Johnson also returned four punts in 2017, one of which was an 87-yard touchdown. Despite that limited usage, he was named First-Team All-MAC as a punt returner and wide receiver. In his usual role as kick returner, Johnson turned 30 attempts into 683 yards and a touchdown and was named Second-Team All-MAC.

Year Class G Punt Ret Punt Ret Yards Punt Ret TD Punt Ret Avg. Kick Ret Kick Ret Yards Kick Ret TD Kick Ret Avg.
2015 Fr. 11 0 0 0 0 33 754 0 22.8
2017 So. 14 4 102 1 25.5 30 683 1 22.8

With seven games down in 2018, Johnson is slightly behind his torrid pace from last year. He is once again leading the Rockets in every receiving category, with 24 receptions for 434 yards (28 percent market share) and six touchdowns (30 percent market share). Johnson also has another kick return touchdown on the year and has resumed punt return duties. He is eligible for the 2019 NFL Draft though there is no indication at this point he will declare. His all-around athletic ability and solid production would make him an interesting day three pick.

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