Sunday Senior Showcase: Positional Switchers Shine

Photo: © Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Offense: Tyler Johnson, WR, Minnesota

Tyler Johnson probably isn't going to look back on this game as a win for his stock; it wasn't a win for his team, as the undefeated Golden Gophers got Kinnick'ed by the Iowa Hawkeyes, 23-19. One of the biggest plays of the game: a 4th and 3 drop from Johnson inside the Iowa 5-yard line -- for the usually sure-handed Johnson, it's easily the most egregious drop I've seen him commit.

So while that play may live in Johnson's mind, what lives in mine is his final stat line and overall performance: 13 targets, 9 receptions, 170 yards (18.9 average), and 1 TD. Johnson was the go-to target on both third and fourth down for his tremendous track and adjust ability; strong hands away from his frame; separation ability as a route-runner.

For Johnson to have such developed skills after changing to the position in college speaks to the natural talent that oozes off his film: he was a dual-threat QB in high school and also a basketball recruit as a guard. The athletic ability has become elite senior production, to the point that our Jonah Tuls called him a first-round candidate earlier this week.

That process may start in Mobile, AL at the Senior Bowl. Fellow upperclassmen Carter Coughlin and Kamal Martin have already gotten the call -- will Johnson?

Defense: Julian Blackmon, S, Utah

Julian Blackmon played cornerback for the Utah Utes last year. He had length, physicality, and ball skills; he lacked transitional quickness and got grabby in the recovery position. So the Utes do what they've done before, and what they've done with success: they moved a corner to safety.

Earlier this week, Blackmon grabbed the Senior Bowl invite. Last night against UCLA, he grabbed 12 tackles, a TFL, 1.5 sacks, an INT, and this forced fumble.

It remains to be seen at the NFL level if Blackmon will be a safety or a corner by name -- what I know is that you don't often find players with his length, instincts, and ability attacking the ball in the air in general. So whatever you do, get him on the field and get him near the ball -- since he arrived on Utah's campus, since he's grown with the coaching staff and developed into an NFL player, the one constant was his ability to make plays on the football; that will never go away.

But if he stays at safety, expect his zone awareness to improve, and his deep angles to grow sharper, so that he has an even greater range of influence. The same rise that ex-teammate and current Seahawk Marquise Blair enjoyed at the Senior Bowl, Blackmon could very well be in line for. Good player.