Minnesota Machine: Tyler Johnson Is A First Round WR Prospect

Photo: Jesse Johnson - USA TODAY Sports

Coming out of high school as a three-star athlete from Minneapolis, Minnesota, I don't think many can say they expected Tyler Johnson to be on the brink of closing in on all of the career wide receiver records for the Golden Gophers. For a third consecutive year, Johnson has been the safety blanket, big play threat, and top red-zone option for this Minnesota passing game. It has led to nearly 3,000 career receiving yards to this point, which has consistently been against some of the best competition in the country.

At 6'2, 205 lbs., Johnson has the size that allows him to play inside or out, the play strength and foot quickness to keep himself free at the LOS, the ability to sink his hips and make sharp cuts in his routes against man coverage, and lastly, finish consistently at the catch point with his length and soft hands. However, I have yet to see the star senior wide receiver for the Golden Gophers show up consistently in any first-round mock for the 2020 NFL draft.

I think it all boils down to Tyler Johnson not being as dynamic or flashy as some of the top guys in this class, like Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, CeeDee Lamb, etc. Other than Jeudy, you can argue Johnson is the best pure route runner in this class, whether playing on the outside or in the slot. But Johnson doesn't get the national recognition that others receive in this 2020 crop of wide receiver prospects. While other players' success are centered around a couple plays in the highlight reel, Tyler Johnson is quietly putting up another year of consistent, elite tape.

If you look back at the 2016 NFL draft, most of the scouting world made the same mistake by not ranking Michael Thomas, and, to a lesser degree, Tyler Boyd, as top draft prospects, simply because of their perceived lack of "big play ability." Thomas ended up being the sixth wide receiver drafted in that class, while Boyd was the seventh, yet both are undoubtedly the best two wide receivers from that early-round group. It just goes to show you how blinded the NFL can be when it comes to prioritizing one-dimensional wide receivers who are reliant on big play ability or red zone potential for success, over ready-made route runners who are equipped with more translatable traits and all-around skill sets.

Like Thomas and Boyd, Johnson has the same sort of smoothness to his game that is rare to find at the collegiate level. His expansive release package at the LOS is as good as any wide receiver prospect in the country. As you can see in this compilation of clips here, Johnson combines quickness and deception to keep defenders on their toes at all times, just dusting cornerbacks from snap to snap. Again, Johnson is on the shortlist as one of the best pure route runners in this class, but he has so much more in his toolbox than people give him credit for.

You need a jump-ball fade route in the end zone for the win? Tyler Johnson checks that box too. Of all the players I've watched in this class, there are only a select few number of prospects that are more controlled and reliable at the catch point than Johnson. Whether it's how he is able to time his attack in the air, maintain a sense of body control, and consistently come down with the ball is just unbelievably impressive. In this regard, his catch point prowess and finishing consistency is very similar to Boyd's Pittsburgh tape.

Again, here is another instance where Johnson gets a clean release off the LOS, stacks up the corner to gain positioning over the top, and tracks the ball into his hands, all the while maintaining his balance along the sideline for a touchdown. This multi-layered play is a prime example of why Johnson should be considered a top, all-around wide receiver prospect in this class. Not many players in the country can consistently evade contact at the LOS like Johnson does with his release. Then when you whittle it down to the amount of receivers who have the nuance to use their body as a leveraging tool vertically to better attack the ball, it gets even smaller. Lastly, Johnson has the athletic wherewithal to somehow stay in bounds here after making this catch and breaking away for the touchdown.

Is Tyler Johnson as big or physically imposing as Collin Johnson? No.

Is Tyler Johnson as fast as Jalen Reagor? No.

Is Tyler Johnson as strong as Laviska Shenault after the catch? No.

But what I can tell you is that there may not be a more well-rounded wide receiver in this class, other than maybe Alabama's Jerry Jeudy, than Tyler Johnson. If you look at every trait or skill that is judged at the wide receiver position -- size, speed, strength, LOS skills, route running, finishing consistency at the catch point, red zone production, and after the catch production, Johnson might be the only wide receiver in this elite 2020 wide receiver crop that checks each of those boxes. In addition, he projects well to mostly any offense at the next level with his inside-out versatility -- once again, similar to how Michael Thomas and Tyler Boyd are used by their respective teams. The more you can do and bring to the table, the more likely you are to have a successful career at the next level. That's why even though Tyler Johnson won't have as many explosive plays on his highlight reel as others, I'm willing to bet Johnson will be on the shortlist for the best wide receivers to come out of this heralded 2020 wide receiver class, hence why I believe he deserves first-round consideration next April.