Tyler Johnson Answers The Tough Questions

Photo: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS — Where were you on Minnesota wide receiver Tyler Johnson this summer? You're probably in a different spot now.

Johnson elected to return to school for the 2019 season following dominant stretches of play for P.J. Fleck's nascent Golden Gophers. At the time Johnson went back to school, he was widely considered a future Day 2 selection. But as the scouting season continued, it became clear that the league wasn't as high on Johnson. He failed to garner a Senior Bowl invite and committed to the East-West Shrine Bowl instead.

And then things got weird. Johnson pulled out of the Shrine Bowl without an injury to focus on training for the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine.

This is odd. Even if Johnson considered himself an unwarranted snub from the Senior Bowl, plenty of good players have gone through the Shrine Bowl and dominating there is a great opportunity to improve your stock with the league. 

Then things got even weirder.

After missing the Shrine Bowl to prepare for the combine, Johnson won't be participating in any athletic tests.

"I'm still learning, still adjusting, to all the different techniques that these types of tests require," Johnson said Tuesday. "I feel like on March 25 on my Pro Day is when I'm gonna be best, when I'm gonna feel most comfortable. I feel like I’m getting better day in and day out. As long as I'm better than I was yesterday then I'm progressing."

Because Johnson deferred a showcase opportunity at the Shrine Bowl and then deferred another one at the combine, the pressure is now on for a strong Pro Day performance — Minnesota has one of the latest on the cycle. He tried to downplay the pressure. 

"I feel like whenever you feel like there's pressure on you, that's when you go out there and fail,” Johnson said. “So, me being comfortable, me being stress-free is going to be very important throughout this process."

The other concern is the implication teams may catch from Johnson's unorthodox approach to the pre-draft process. Is he really a competitor? Or is he entitled and unwilling to sink to the level of a Shrine Bowl? Is he willing to jump through the hoops necessary to make it to the pro level? 

Character matters for teams and Johnson's willingness to color outside of the typical lines will have some wondering just how willing he is to go his own way. But Johnson hasn't received or heard any negative team feedback regarding his decision making. 

"[Teams] understand it 100 percent," he said. "Everyone knows that you shouldn't feel rushed. You should feel comfortable with yourself, go out and do the best that you can possibly do. I'm not concerned at all. I really just backed out because I felt like it was best for me." 

He also emphasized how much he wanted to compete and how tough it was to pass on the tests.

"It was pretty difficult, because this is a primetime event, and I love to compete,” Johnson said. “So, getting to compete with the others is something that this for and getting to showcase my talent on primetime television is something I would love to do. But being able to make the best decision for me was most important."

All of the eggs are now in the March 25 basket when Johnson will run, jump and test at the along with his other draft-eligible teammates like safety Antoine Winfield Jr. St. John quarterback Jackson Erdmann will be throwing for Johnson, and they've already started working out together in anticipation of the all-important day.

Johnson will participate in drills this week. He will likely still be in the spotlight looking smooth, powerful and consistent in his routes and with his hands. Johnson will also be confirmed in medicals as a healthy pro player and interview with teams to answer lingering questions. But the numbers won't come until his Pro Day when he'll take his first, final and only chance to boost his stock with a strong on-field performance.