Texas wide receiver Collin Johnson (9) celebrates a two-point conversion against Georgia during the Sugar Bowl NCAA college football game on Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, in New Orleans, Louisiana. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Texas’ Collin Johnson remains confident in his abilities as the NFL draft approaches

Posted April 18th, 2020

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Story highlights
  • “I’m sure it all set me back a little bit,” said Collin, who lifts dumbbells and kettle bells in his backyard and catches passes from his high school quarterback Mike Machado Jr. “But it’d be one thing if it was just me. We’re all in the same boat."
  • “It’s my hope based to be a Day 2 pick,” Collin said of the second round. “But even if I get picked on Day 3, as long as I get an opportunity … The draft is unpredictable anyway, and now it’s really unpredictable.”
  • One draft report called Collin “a red-zone nightmare for defenders” and said he will be “a problematic matchup for some safeties.” 

More than a year ago, Collin Johnson made an impactful decision that would drastically shape his young life. Coming off a terrific junior season as Texas’ highly productive outside receiver, he decided to come back to Texas for his senior year.

Nothing much has gone his way since.

Just don’t expect him to bicker about his circumstances. That’s not how he was raised.

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“My mindset is to control the controllable, even with so much out of our control,” Johnson said from San Jose, Calif., where he alternates staying at the home of his long-time girl friend and also his parents’ place. “A ton of stuff didn’t go as planned. But it’s all about adjustments and no complaints. I probably got that from my dad. He instilled it in me.”

Texas wide receiver Collin Johnson watches teammates warm up before the Iowa State game last November. Hamstring issues cost him six games last season. (Nick Wagner/American-Statesman)

And that lineage as son of former Longhorns All-American and 11-year NFL safety Johnnie Johnson helps sustain him during what has been a trying last 18 months. Johnson said he has no regrets at all about not coming out after his junior year although he’d have every reason to wonder what if.

Consider:

He got hurt in his first game of his senior season against Louisiana Tech.

A nagging hamstring cost him seven games, but he kept trying to rush back.

Poised to prove himself in the Senior Bowl after a strong Alamo Bowl performance, he had a small-grade tear and a hip flexor that cut his week short in Mobile, Ala.

Still not healthy, he couldn’t run or lift or do any of the measurable skill tests at the NFL scouting combine in February.

Then his scheduled Pro Day workout earlier this month before several dozen NFL scouts was abruptly canceled like most everything else with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Texas wide receiver Collin Johnson played in 45 career games and caught 15 touchdowns as a Longhorn. He’s hoping to be a Day 2 or Day 3 pick in the NFL draft. (Nick Wagner/American-Statesman)

“I’m sure it all set me back a little bit,” said Johnson, who lifts dumbbells and kettle bells in his backyard and catches passes from his high school quarterback, Mike Machado Jr. “But it’d be one thing if it was just me. We’re all in the same boat. We’re all dealt the same card. I know for sure I’ll get a shot.”

He will, most likely, be selected on Day 3 of the draft in the final five rounds, probably the fourth or fifth round.

“It’s my hope to be a Day 2 pick,” Collin said of the second round. “But even if I get picked on Day 3, as long as I get an opportunity. … The draft is unpredictable anyway, and now it’s really unpredictable.”

Some team will get a very gifted receiver with a high catch radius, given his 6-6 height, a high-quality person (think the anti-Antonio Brown), an unselfish teammate and loads of potential. He blew up in a road game loss to USC as a sophomore — his breakout performance, a career-high 191 yards in the Coliseum — always played hard and never seemed to quite be utilized to his full potential.

One draft report called him “a red-zone nightmare for defenders” and said he will be “a problematic matchup for some safeties.” 

There are, however, reservations that some will have. He’s not a burner. He has trouble getting separation and fighting off press coverage at the line of scrimmage. He’s never been known for his yardage after the catch.

But he’s had enough highlight plays to entice some teams.

Texas wide receiver Collin Johnson celebrates a touchdown in the first half of the 2018 game against West Virginia. The touchdown was overturned, however, due to an offensive pass interference penalty. (Stephen Spillman/For Statesman)

“Some teams have kept their interest in me on the down low,” he said. “Some are more open. The feeling I get is the Bills like me a lot. The Jets like me a lot. The Saints like me a lot. The Patriots, Panthers.”

He has drawn significant interest. Maybe not as much as teammate Devin Duvernay, who I think is a slam dunk and will have a great pro career with his superior 4.39 speed, toughness and perfect hands. But Johnson can play, too.

None of his setbacks have shaken his confidence.

He scoffs at reports that he’s been injury prone, reminding that he missed only one game as a junior before being sidelined six games last fall. The tag upsets his dad, a College Football Hall of Famer, maybe more than Collin himself.

Texas wide receiver Collin Johnson looks down at the ground after the 27-24 double-overtime loss at USC in 2017. Johnson had a career night in the loss — 191 receiving yards. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman)

“I don’t think he’s injury prone at all because he’s had a very productive college career,” Johnnie Johnson said. “Most players have nagging injuries, but he is a tough guy, and he’s played through most of his. I think he’s proven himself as a high-quality player who has the ability to make unique plays at the pro level.”

Collin said some NFL scouts have been “blunt” in their questions about his health, but most have been “real respectful” and some haven’t even brought up the subject. In some way or another, he said he’s spoken to all 32 teams.

“I kept rushing back from my hamstring injury and ended up missing significant time,” he said. “But they all saw me when I was fully healthy the majority of my career.”

His medical report is nothing like the dreary one of his brother, Kirk, who could never stay healthy enough to play more than 21 games in his UT career, just four as a senior running back/special teams player. That said, his dad has shared some of Kirk’s scrimmage highlights with others and said, “He’s gonna get a shot, and he may be one of those guys if he stays healthy plays eight or 10 years.”

Collin, however, has a much deeper résumé and profile to make him appealing.

While he never made a first-team All-Big 12 squad, he played in 45 games in his Longhorns career and caught 15 touchdowns. He wasn’t always used properly, especially in the red zone where Texas should have capitalized on his height. It’s shocking that he caught just one touchdown pass on a fade route against Kansas State as a junior.

He also counters critics who pan his speed and separation skills and the ability to pick up yards after the catch. He also points out that others who are not speed-burners like 4.7 receivers Jarvis Landry, Cris Carter, Keenan Allen as well as Jerry Rice, who, uh, had a decent career after being clocked at 4.6 in the 40.

Johnson said he was once timed at 4.5 at Texas and said he’s “faster than people give me credit for.”

That’s not his calling card, however, something he freely admits.

“I’d say my strengths are my intangibles,” Johnson said. “I feel I’m equipped to be a good pro. You can drive yourself crazy if you let it get to you. Like injuries, what round and if somebody doesn’t like you. I know for sure I’ll get a shot, and I’ll prove myself to be ready.”

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