The history of the wide receiver position in the NFL is filled with players who are overlooked early in the draft process only to go on to become elite NFL stars. Many of these players are missed by teams because of where they played football in college. Donald Driver was a 7th round pick after playing for Alcorn State. Miles Austin went undrafted out of Monmouth. Wayne Chrebet went undrafted after a successful career at UMass. Great wide receiver talent is present at all levels of college football, and one of the top wide receivers in the 2018 NFL Draft hails from Slippery Rock.
If Marcus Johnson played for a team such as Alabama, he would likely be a household name by now. At 6'2, 190 pounds, Johnson is a physical, aggressive receiver with great hands. He's not afraid to step in as a blocker, and showcases a ton of talent as a route-runner. More impressive still is Marcus Johnson's production throughout his collegiate career as a football player (link here). In 2017, Marcus Johnson caught 72 passes for 1,214 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns, with an average of 16.9 yards per reception and 110.4 receiving yards per game. He also averaged 27.9 yards per kick return and 15.6 yards per punt return, with three total touchdowns on returns. Against Kentucky State he caught 12 passes for 231 yards and 3 TDs. Against Gannon, he caught 10 passes for 183 yards and 4 TDs, and also returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Against Edinboro, he caught 14 passes for 192 yards and 2 TDs. At season's end, Marcus Johnson recorded 1,993 all purpose yards in 2017. In 2016, Johnson's second season with the school, he recorded 898 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. These are dominant numbers and show that he has the talent to succeed in any offensive system.
However, some people will question Johnson's numbers as a byproduct of playing for a DII program. These concerns do not hold up under closer scrutiny. First, Marcus Johnson had an extremely strong showing as one of only two DII players invited to the College Gridiron Showcase. Against DI talent, Marcus Johnson showed that he has the tools to compete at any level of football. Second, he leaves Slippery Rock with 28 receiving touchdowns, 2,238 receiving yards, 133 receptions, 31 total touchdowns, 188 points scored, and 3,017 all purpose yards. This was after transferring from a DIII program and learning a new playbook. Johnson has the talent to adapt to any level of football and emerge as a weapon both as a receiver and as a special teams stud. Marcus Johnson's production in college will transfer nicely to the NFL; on film (here and here), he shows all the necessary tools to emerge as a major part of an NFL passing game.
What are some things that Marcus Johnson does exceptionally well? First off, he's coachable and has a good reputation with his coaches and teammates (link here). Second, he has one of the best sets of hands in this year's draft. Johnson is aggressive enough to come down with 50/50 jump balls most of the time, and is able to adjust to catch off-target passes when needed. He has some of the best ball skills of any receiver in college football. He fights for extra yardage on every play and often runs like a running back after the catch. He blocks well, runs crisp routes, and is a big-play machine. Does not shy away from contact or get rattled by physically aggressive defenders. As a receiver, these traits will translate well to the NFL, and Johnson could emerge as a Hines Ward-type player who is not afraid to initiate contact and to make contested catches in the middle of the field.
Ultimately, Johnson's value as a prospect is as follows. Marcus Johnson is a great route runner who is able to quickly change speeds to keep defenders off balance. He's extremely productive on fades, slants, and out routes, and catches 50/50 balls at a high point without bobbling it. This is important in the NFL, where establishing possession is a key part of making a catch. Has the speed to be a deep threat, but also can make plays in the middle of the field. Johnson has the talent to also be a productive returner on both punt return and kick return units. His versatility and ability to run crisp routes will endear him to NFL coaching staffs, and his willingness to block will keep him in games on designed runs. Has the talent to stick with an NFL team as a rotational receiver and special teams ace as a floor, but his ceiling is that of an every down starter in an NFL offense. Given a season to adjust to the rigors of an NFL season, I fully expect Marcus Johnson to emerge as a starter. If he played for a better-known program, he would likely be in the discussion as a day one prospect. Has a higher ceiling than most big-name receiver prospects since his tools are a match for NFL offensive schemes; not simply a product of the college spread offense. Marcus Johnson is a great all-around athlete who has the potential to make a major impact on an NFL team, both on offense and on special teams.
In a new generation of football largely defined by analytics and finding value in the draft, Marcus Johnson may be one of the biggest values in the entire 2018 NFL Draft. If a team is able to find a receiver who can make an instant impact, they have nailed the pick. If that player is a small school player who will likely be drafted later than his talent dictates, then that pick is extremely valuable. If an NFL franchise is looking for a great value in 2018, draft Marcus Johnson. He might just be one of the safest receiver prospects in the entire draft, and he has the talent to play now. Corey Coleman was a first round pick in 2016. Marcus Johnson has a much better work ethic than Coleman and gives 100% on every play, with a similar level of production. Cordarrelle Patterson was a first round pick in 2013. So was Tavon Austin. Unlike Patterson and Austin, Marcus Johnson has the talent to be an every down contributor at the position instead of simply a return specialist and offensive role player. If you want a player that will help you win the draft in 2018, please, draft Marcus Johnson. --Mike B.
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