The scene was perfectly set up for Buffalo Bulls wide receiver Anthony Johnson.
On September 8th, Buffalo traveled to play Temple. With just over a minute remaining in the fourth quarter of a tied game, Buffalo faced 3rd-and-10 at the Temple 29-yard line.
Johnson was kept relatively quiet throughout the game as Temple used top cornerback Rock Ya-Sin to contain him. On this play, however, Johnson found himself aligned slot right and matched up with a safety.
What happened next was an early candidate for play of the season. Johnson made the catch and raced for the game winning touchdown, the highlight of Buffalo’s 4-0 start to the season.
Let’s take a look.
Johnson entered the season on a lot of watch lists for the NFL draft. So far, he has lived up to the hype as one of Tyree Jackson’s top targets, racking up 308 yards and 3 touchdowns in just 4 games.
On his game winning play, Johnson flashed multiple traits that could make him a draftable receiver. However, despite the result of the play there were equally as many concerns. A type of Rorschach’s test of result vs. trait based scouting.
Johnson catches the slant route with a defender draped all over him, and is able to shake loose from the tackle immediately after the catch. This was an impressive display of focus on possession and contact balance.
Now running in space, he uses the block of a fellow wide receiver to get to the outside and avoid the pursuit. Johnson is able to maintain his balance, and cut back into the end zone. His field vision, elusiveness, and awareness were on full display after the initial broken tackle.
Johnson is operating in the slot with a free release, but unnecessarily hesitates at the line of scrimmage. As he flattens his route, he cradles the catch against his chest with passive hand placement. In many situations at the next level, affording the defender with extra time to compete at the catchpoint will result in a pass breakup. Johnson would be better off extending his hands and catching the ball with his hands in the shape of a diamond (active hand placement).
As Johnson gets inside the 5-yard line and avoids a potential tackler, he holds the ball out in his hand. This lack of ball security is dangerous, especially when already in game winning field goal range. As he’s holding the ball out, a forced fumble could’ve resulted in a turnover or touchback.
This play by Johnson was a signature moment for him as a professional prospect, while also providing a glimpse at his strengths along with potential weaknesses. Luckily for Johnson, none of the concerns from this play cost him in the moment. Additionally, none of them were of the physical nature, and could all be fixed with improved technique or coaching.