On December 26, the Minnesota Golden Gophers take on the Auburn Tigers in the Outback Bowl. Although 6-foot-2-inch, 200-pound wide receiver Tyler Johnson could’ve declared early last season, he opted to prioritize earning his undergraduate degree over leaving early for the NFL. Despite opting to stay an extra year in school, Johnson has a very intriguing prospect profile.
Despite the questionable quarterback play at Minnesota, Johnson broke out in his sophomore year. Johnson followed up with a strong junior year, posting a 0.49 Dominator Rating.
As a freshman, Johnson played in all 13 games and posted a 14/141/1 receiving line. Although the results from his freshman season were not flashy, Johnson accounted for 13% of Minnesota’s receiving TDs and posted a dominator rating of 0.10.
As a sophomore, Johnson started the first 10 games of the season before missing the final two with a leg injury. Before being forced to miss the final two games of the season, Johnson was experiencing a breakout season. Although his 35/677/7 receiving line may not look particularly impressive, Johnson accounted for 45% of Wisconsin’s receiving yards and 78% of Wisconsin’s receiving TDs. In his age-19 season, Johnson posted an eye-popping 0.61 Dominator Rating.
The spike in production during Johnson’s junior year is heartening to see. He improved upon every raw receiving metric, despite dealing with poor QB play. It’s important to point out that Minnesota’s overall passing was slightly below average in 2018, ranking 51st in Passing S&P+. Quarterbacks Zack Annexstad and Tanner Morgan combined to complete just 55 percent of their throws on the season. Despite operating within a below-average passing offense, Johnson finished 18th in the nation in raw receiving yards.
Johnson chose to prioritize the importance of earning his undergraduate degree, and opted to not declare early for the 2019 NFL Draft. Unfortunately, Johnson failed to materialistically improve any of his stats. His senior season was a relative disappointment as his receiving market share and touchdown market share declined. With sophomore WR Rashod Bateman taking on an increased role, Johnson’s numbers suffered slightly.
Note that Johnson posted several lofty receiving lines against top-tier competition. He racked up seven catches for 104 yards and a touchdown against Penn State and caught eight passes for 89 yards and a touchdown against Wisconsin. At the time of writing, Johnson had tied Ron Johnson for the most receiving touchdowns in Minnesota history.1
NFL Draft Prospects
Although Johnson’s prospect profile won’t be as attractive as it would’ve been had he declared early, he’s still quite an exciting WR prospect. He boasts a breakout season of age 19.4, a positive indicator of future success. Forty-six percent of the top-100 picks with Johnson’s breakout age have reached the 200-point plateau in at least one of their first three seasons.
Looking at Kevin Cole’s regression tree for evaluating prospects, we can see that Johnson’s career market share of receiving yards is healthy. Johnson accounted for 37% of Minnesota’s receiving yards in 2019, and lands in the cohort of past prospects with one of the higher likelihood of future successes. Additionally, Johnson posted a strong yards-per-reception mark in his final collegiate season.
One of the bigger red flags on Johnson’s profile is that he opted to not declare early. Blair Andrews has previously highlighted the importance declaring early, but I’m hopeful that Johnson’s early breakout age offsets any concerns regarding his draft age.
Given Johnson’s strong age-adjusted production profile, it’s safe to say that he could become a RotoViz favorite despite using up all his eligibility. Hopefully Johnson plays well in the Outback Bowl and tests well at the NFL combine.
Image Credit: David Berding/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Tyler Johnson.
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