Scouting Report: Small-School Cade Johnson Could Make Big Impact in NFL

Johnson could provide a little of everything the New England Patriots are looking for.
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Measurables:

Height: 5-foot-10 (1.778m)

Weight: 186 lbs (84.37kg)

Age: 22

Strengths:

- Strong hands, and displays impressive ability to make catches on the sideline, one-handed, or in traffic for a smaller-framed receiver.

- A pure slot receiver that can run a diverse set of routes due to strong route-running ability. While some nuance still needs rounding out, Johnson is one of the stronger route-runners in this class. 

- An absolute separation artist in college and at the Reese's Senior Bowl. While the competition will be making huge improvements before his very eyes, Johnson will be able to separate, get open, and sit down in zone holes at the next level. 

- Uses his eyes, shoulders, and even hips as weapons to break off from his defender at the top of his routes. 

- Also demonstrates great balance and the ability to cut at sharp angles to create even more separation.

- Tough runner who projects to add some value after the catch. Also returning kicks in college, he can clearly make things happen with the ball in his hands. Also saw lots of action on end arounds where South Dakota State could take advantage of his playmaking ability. 

- No groundbreaking speed, however, quick and elusive enough to beat defenders with his feet and footwork, and make a living in the NFL facing up against more athletic corners than he's seen. 

- Seems to have a good foundational understanding of how to attack leverage and react to what the defender is giving him. That should only get stronger at the next level.

Weaknesses:

- Johnson is small, both in terms of height and weight. This will restrict a good deal of versatility, along with restrict his ability to contribute at the next level in the run game. This is not a player that would be shifting around a formation to different spots. 

- With size being an issue, his wing span and hand size will be important measurements as they can help determine if his catch radius and hands could translate well to the pros. 

- While 'weakness' might be a strong word here, his release could use some more refinement to really help make him a strong separation-artist slot receiver. While there wasn't much wasted movement to speak of, a focus in reducing any wasted movement, practicing more release packages, and finally bursting out of his stance will help him a great deal and raise his ceiling in the pros. 

- Little tape of Johnson playing against quality competition and quality defensive backs. This leaves you wondering how much his success will translate to what will be a huge difference in competition. 

Summary and Archetype:

Cade Johnson is another mid-round prospect who would likely be receiving more hype had he been in a draft class that wasn't stacked top-to-bottom with impressive receiver after impressive receiver. He might also be receiving more hype had he transferred to a Power Five program, which he had the option to do in his final season, but instead declined. 

Johnson has had many starting to clamor for him since the Senior Bowl though, in which he was dominant in one-on-ones. More than anything there, he displayed his elite ability to find and create separation, which shined over anyone else during the week. 

Time and time again, he would find separation, and even on the few reps he didn't, he flashed his impressive ability to make catches in traffic and showed more physicality than he did in his time at South Dakota State. 

While some reasonable questions still exist in Johnson's game, many have compared his play style to former Seattle Seahawk, Doug Baldwin. Which I can get right along with personally. He projects well as a developmental quick slot with the ability to find separation and potentially add value after the catch. 

Fit with the Patriots:

The New England Patriots have been needy of a Baldwin-like receiver for a while. In fact, after Baldwin's sudden retirement in May 2019, the discussion existed to some across Patriots nation of Baldwin being just the receiver they needed, and convincing him to come out of retirement may have been an intriguing option. Unfortunately, his retirement was due to multiple surgeries and injuries that the Seahawk great couldn't overcome. 

Johnson, much like Baldwin back in 2019, could provide New England with a little bit of everything they are looking for. With pluses in route-running, separation, the ability to snag balls in traffic, and make an impact after the catch, Johnson can make an impact in many ways out of the slot. 

While Johnson likely projects as a third option in an offense, probably a second guy at best, he is by no means the solution to all the Patriots' receiving problems. Yet, as the New England starts to sculpt the future of the receiver spot, a combo of Jakobi Meyers and Johnson would be a step in the right direction.

Keep an eye on Johnson in the fourth round as the Patriots are currently projected to have three fourth-round picks. He could be a guy who could play a big role in turning around the position at a low cost.