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NFL Draft

Can Olabisi Johnson Break Out For Vikings In 2020?

  • The Draft Network
  • September 1, 2020
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The theme of the 2020 offseason for the Minnesota Vikings has been: how do you replace Stefon Diggs?

After trading the Pro Bowl wide receiver to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for the No. 22 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Vikings knew they had to get a plan together to make up for such a big part of their offense no longer being there. On top of that, Diggs wasn’t the only departure from the offensive side of things in Minnesota, as offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski took a job with the Cleveland Browns to be their head coach.

The Vikings still have receiver Adam Thielen, who has gone from one of the most underappreciated players in the NFL to now a true focal point of a passing attack. Thielen will be utilized plenty in Minnesota’s offense moving forward, but making up for the loss of Diggs cannot happen simply by rotating some targets over to Thielen. The Vikings need a whole new plan of attack with their receiving corps.

The team made quick work of replacing Diggs by using the very pick they traded him for to select the sensational slot receiver from LSU Justin Jefferson. Jefferson has a precise, advanced game that should make for a somewhat easy transition to the NFL—though any jump from college to the pros is never “easy.” But even if you think highly of what Jefferson can do in his first season, it’s not very likely that a rookie will be able to make up for the loss of a dynamic, Pro Bowl receiver like Diggs overnight. 

Truth be told, it’s going to take a committee of receivers to elevate the Vikings offense to a level where they can continue to compete for a division title and perhaps a late playoff run in 2020. They’ll need more than Thielen, and even more than Jefferson. Thankfully for them, they have a player already on the roster who could really help their cause as a potential breakout candidate: wide receiver Olabisi Johnson.

The Vikings selected Johnson out of Colorado State as their third of four seventh-round picks in 2020. Johnson was drafted at pick No. 247, meaning there were only seven other players drafted after him. But despite being nearly undrafted, Johnson made the 53-man roster out of camp. When his rookie year was all said and done, Johnson played in all 16 games and even started in six when Thielen was out with injury. His final stat line was 294 receiving yards on 31 receptions with three receiving touchdowns.

As of right now, that yearly performance was enough for Johnson to enter training camp ahead of Jefferson as the starting receiver opposite Thielen when the team is in two-wide-receiver sets, meaning Johnson would likely be seeing a high percentage of the offensive snaps.

When it comes to being a breakout player, the area where I really think Johson can break out is in the red zone. He’s likely not going to be a consistent deep threat in the way Diggs was, so the way he can bring added value is in plays like the one above where space is at a premium.

During the broadcast of the play above, commentator Charles Davis said: “now that’s an Adam Thielen route.” I agree with him, and Johnson getting Thielen-type praise in the red zone is a big deal.

Thielen is one of the most nuanced route-runners in the league. He understands soft spots and open space in coverage so well. He isn’t the fastest or the quickest player (certainly isn’t the biggest, either) yet he constantly contributes to the offense because he can create throwing lanes and windows for the quarterback by manipulating space in the slot.

That’s exactly what Johnson did in the play above. At the beginning of his route, he appeared to be running what might be a dig or a drag right across the middle around the goal line, something he did quite a bit in 2019. But once he reached where the linebacker was standing, he got shifty and went to the next level of the defense, it was there he was able to place himself in the back of the end zone between two defenders. 

Space manipulation with some unorthodox (yet precise) route-running.

Johnson may not have that rare top speed, but he’s quick, and can really accelerate quickly going across the field. He did so in the play above, and that was enough to create the space to warrant the throw.

Now, what he did when the throw got there was even better. Johnson shows a lot of body control. You can see that in his route. He also translates that control into catching the ball in the air, as shown above. Johnson’s ability to be so in control at all times is a big plus to how he can adjust his body, with his feet on the ground or not, to bring in passes.

I’m not saying Johnson is a future 1,000-yard receiver in 2020 or even a “Diggs replacement,” but for a former seventh-round pick, I could see 600-800 receiving yards in his future, if he stays healthy.

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