The UCF Football program received a top transfer from Notre Dame when Jordan Johnson selected the Knights over several other prominent programs for his services. Adding Johnson’s after-the-catch skills and route running abilities to UCF Head Coach Gus Malzahn’s offensive scheme provides the Knights with big-play opportunities.
It’s hard to find elite playmakers. Some players just run by defenders with sheer speed. Some players, however, like to barrell through defenders with raw power. In the case of Jordan Johnson, the Knights will receive something different than speed or power.
Johnson is a combination of fluid moves, instincts, natural hands, and make-you-miss ability all in one package. After seeing the field for just two games while a freshman for Notre Dame and not catching a pass, he moved into the transfer portal. UCF was the beneficiary when Johnson selected the Knights.
Here’s a look at what the Knights will be getting from a player perspective, as well as the importance of landing a transfer as high profile as Johnson. To start, the basic measurables and recruiting background need to be established.
Jordan Johnson, Wide Receiver, 6’1”, 180-pounds, Saint Louis, Mo. (DeSmet) - Transfer from Notre Dame
Before enrolling at Notre Dame one year ago, Johnson was one of the nation’s most highly coveted wide receivers. He earned offers, amongst many, from Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio State, Indiana, Kansas State, Alabama, Auburn, Florida, LSU, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Oregon and Southern Cal.
Jordan was rated a five-star recruit by 247 Sports as well as Rivals, and a four-star recruit by ESPN. Those high marks represent his high school ranking. How he fits into the UCF offense is more intriguing because of his skills. This fall for the Knights, Johnson will be a reshirt-freshman.
Johnson the Playmaker
For anyone that remembers the days of the NFL where the West Coast Offense dominated Sunday afternoons, Johnson fits that type of wide receiver well. Not a pure burner, but crisp cuts in and out of his breaks, soft hands, and elite side-to-side mobility make him a unique talent. Here’s a clip of Johnson weaving his way through traffic during his junior season of high school.
As one can clearly watch and understand, that's a natural ability with the football in Johnson’s hands in conjunction with a will to score despite numerous defenders that were in his path. Any question about his natural route running skills can be seen here as well.
Just that subtle movement to the inside, then he gained separation and enough room for the quarterback to provide a pass for a touchdown. That was actually good coverage, but Johnson’s twitchy athleticism provided enough room for a quality pass to earn six points. Going deep is another possibility for Johnson.
Running routes like Johnson does provides many advantages, as seen above by running by the cornerback. It's important to know that it's more complex than just speed.
One of the advantages of Johnson's route running would be keeping a defense guessing. This is especially true for a cornerback. Johnson smoothly transitions from each aspect of a route, regardless of the route provided, that when it’s time to go deep that a cornerback often guesses. Bad idea, as seen above when Johnson blew by the cornerback. Once a cornerback’s feet even hesitate, it usually leads to a wide receiver going right by on a nine route, i.e. a bomb.
Fitting Coach Malzahn’s Offense
With Coach Malzahn’s innovation, he’s capable of coming up with new plays that fit any given skill position player. For Johnson, it will likely be more of Johnson simply fitting into Coach Malzahn’s already tried and true philosophy, however.
Here’s an example. One of the best aspects of Coach Malzahn’s scheme would be the ability to use different forms of screen passes. Johnson excels at these types of plays, and his after-the-catch ability will definitely provide big plays for the UCF offense.
Beyond the screens, Johnson’s route running capabilities will fit in nicely with a quarterback and Heisman candidate Dillon Gabriel that is tremendously accurate. Once the football reaches Johnson’s hands, he’s a proven commodity to make defenders miss and gain big yardage.
That’s why the wide receiver route tree can be as simple as necessary to get Johnson the football. There’s no need for the 1988 San Francisco 49er’s West Coast Offensive playbook; just place the ball in the playmakers hands.
Coach Malzahn will have a unique wide receiver that can beat a defense with a screen short pass, or a bomb. That truly expands what Coach Malzahn and his entire offensive coaching staff can do with its offensive play calling. As for the aspect of Johnson transferring, that’s also intriguing.
Johnson will Provide UCF with National Recognition
Johnson is going to make plays. That’s what he does. Every time his name flashes across the television screen and/or an announcer mentions that he’s from Saint Louis, Mo., it will most likely intrigue other out-of-state prospects. It’s a nice add-on recruiting opportunity for UCF.
UCF is currently and should continue to recruit locally. It’s Florida. For anyone that follows recruiting, the Sunshine State is one of the nation’s best for prep football. 37 Florida players were selected in the 2021 NFL Draft that originally played high school football inside the state of Florida state lines.
UCF is really hammering the in-state talent for 2022 and beyond, and that’s not going to change. Still, there’s still room to expand recruiting, at least occasionally.
Even if the Knights just land one or two national recruits per year, it bolsters the roster. Johnson comes from Missouri. The next big name transfer or recruit might come from Nevada or New Jersey. Perhaps it will be Texas or Oklahoma.
Regardless of location, UCF will gain exposure into new markets with Johnson’s arrival into the UCF program. He’s a legitimate threat to score when the football is in his hands, and his talents will help spread the UCF football program’s brand nationwide.