It would have been hard to justify drafting Marcus Johnson last year, and no team did. After three seasons at the University of Texas, the wide receiver had caught just 61 passes for 793 yards and four touchdowns. His career-high came in his first season, as a sophomore, gaining 350 yards with quarterbacks Case McCoy and David Ash.
The next year he had a new quarterback (we’ll get to him in a second) and a new head coach in Charlie Strong. Johnson’s production dipped to 313 yards despite playing in four more games than he did the previous year. As a senior he played in just six games, gaining 130 yards with one touchdown.
As college production goes, Johnson had no case to be in the NFL. There are hundreds of draft hopefuls at the receiver position, and Johnson had done nothing notable after being a four-star recruit from League City, Texas. You can see a highlight reel of his time at Texas here, and note that it is barely more than a minute long, doesn’t really get going until :10 seconds in, and several moments are just the same play with different angles.
However at the combine, had he been invited to the combine, Johnson would’ve been an elite prospect.
At his pro day, Johnson ran the 40 in 4.38, had an 11’3 broad jump, and did 22 reps on the bench. Only one receiver was officially faster at the 2016 combine: Will Fuller. His 37” vertical would’ve tied for seventh. He would’ve also finished first in broad jump and bench reps.
However, Johnson struggled in the three-cone (7.26) and his shuttle time of 4.39 was also lackluster.
His pro day was not enough to get teams to necessarily reconsider his college career and draft him, but the Philadelphia Eagles did sign him as an undrafted free agent and after getting injured and eventually spending 2016 on the practice squad, he broke out as a keeper last August and September.
Here’s what Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation had to say about Johnson when we talked to him this past March:
Johnson’s strong showing continued in 2017 training camp. He struggled with drops at times but he was mostly sure-handed. He also did a good job of flashing the vertical speed that matches up with his 4.37 40-yard time. I can remember him often burning Patrick Robinsondeep. He even stood out for his effort on special teams.
Johnson began the season as the team’s fifth receiver on the depth chart. He beat out 2017 fifth-round pick Shelton Gibson, who was kept inactive as the sixth receiver. Johnson mostly played on special teams but the Eagles would actively try to give him a few offensive snaps here and there. Johnson never did anything overly impressive where he convinced the Eagles to keep playing him. The feeling is that he didn’t make the most of opportunity, so they made the switch to activating Gibson late in the season. So it seems like the Eagles felt like they gave him a fair chance and were ready to move on.
In the preseason with the Eagles last year, Johnson caught five passes for 89 yards and two touchdowns. That included a 41-yard touchdown from quarterback Dane Evans while playing against the NY Jets, though it was mostly a pretty simple wide-open catch-and-run. Even better was this 38-yard reception against the Buffalo Bills. That does put 79 yards on two receptions, leaving just 10 for the other three (including the other touchdown), but Johnson was apparently making the most of his opportunities in a preseason situation, which are always tough to judge.
Despite some confusion among fans last year as to why the Seahawks would cut Kasen Williams after he was highly-productive in training camp and the preseason, Pete Carroll is likely going to allow for receivers to get seriously into the competition this year as opposed to last; Seattle had to keep Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Paul Richardson, and for all intents and purposes, Amara Darboh. They also liked Tanner McEvoy and wanted to keep six running backs due to all the injuries and uncertainty at that position, though the added depth didn’t end up helping much.
This year there’s no Richardson, Darboh has more to prove, as does David Moore and McEvoy, and the newly-added Brandon Marshall and Jaron Brown. The Seahawks will stick with Baldwin and Lockett in the rotation for sure, but the rest is open for debate.
Johnson is now in front of that debate.
Through four days of training camp, Johnson has been perhaps the most-mentioned receiver on the roster.
Looking forward to Marcus Johnson being the Seahawks receiver this year who some people stake their entire fandom on and threaten to stop watching because he wasn't the #6 WR and now he's killing it on Cleveland's practice squad. https://t.co/YZK2nfhKLT— Field Gulls (@FieldGulls) July 29, 2018
Tier 1 TD throws. #SeahawksCamp pic.twitter.com/Q3iJPHDyem— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) July 29, 2018
Without Doug Baldwin and David Moore today, the starting receivers in three-receiver sets were Lockett, Brown and Marcus Johnson.— Bob Condotta (@bcondotta) July 30, 2018
Seahawks’ second training camp practice is over. A good day for some of the young receivers, Marcus Johnson and David Moore. Chris Carson still working as the No. 1 RB. Seahawks are off tomorrow.— Brady Henderson (@BradyHenderson) July 27, 2018
#SeahawksCamp Highlight: Marcus Johnson Sideline Grab https://t.co/fIqTna7nX4— Michael Princip (@gridiron00) July 29, 2018
Acquired from the Eagles in the Michael Bennett trade, Johnson was obviously someone the team had their eyes on, but I don’t know that anyone was expecting him to stand out so brightly, so soon. If anything, everyone sort of expected him to have been added for his special teams abilities, not to be a contributor on offense. Either way, it’s a welcome contribution at a position of uncertainty for Seattle and it seems likely that Johnson will factor in heavily when the Seahawks open the preseason against the Indianapolis Colts next Thursday.
It’s a game where you can expect a heavy dose of Austin Davis and Alex McGough at quarterback, plus mostly third, fourth, and as deep as it goes depth guys getting onto the field so Carroll can see what else he’s got. Johnson will have to work well with whichever quarterback he’s given in order to impress the coaches and beat out not just McEvoy or Moore for a spot on the roster, but maybe even to have a chance of receiving significant targets in the regular season. But playing with lackluster quarterbacks is something he’s used to.
Just ask one of the guys who he’ll be competing with to receive attention from quarterbacks next Thursday: His quarterback for most of 2014-2015 at Texas, and now a tight end on the Seahawks, Tyrone Swoopes.
There hasn’t been a ton of talent at Texas in recent years. Johnson didn’t stand out in any way during his college years but he may also not have been setup to succeed. Who knows if he’ll have any real impact on Seattle’s offense this year, but he’s got the opportunity, and he’s setup as good as he’s going to be. Can he come down with it still in his hands?