The New Orleans Saints have been experts at finding and developing talent at wide receiver that went undrafted or fell to the late rounds of the NFL Draft. Since Sean Payton took over as head coach in 2006, this has been especially true.
Marques Colston, a seventh-round choice in 2006, became one of the best players in franchise history. Lance Moore, undrafted in 2005, was poached off the Cleveland Browns practice squad in 2006 and would go on to make the Saints Hall of Fame in 2018.
Brandon Coleman and Willie Snead were two more undrafted wideouts with some productive seasons in New Orleans. In 2019, Deonte Harris went from an overlooked undrafted wide receiver to an All-Pro kick returner as a rookie.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancelation of preseason games and most offseason activities in 2020. Still, it did not prevent undrafted wide receiver Marquez Callaway from overcoming the odds, making the team, and becoming a key contributor in the Saints' offense.
Juwan Johnson joined Callaway on the roster as an undrafted rookie wideout for the Saints in 2020 and is the subject of today's player profile.
Johnson hopes to make an even more significant offensive contribution in 2021 and potentially switch positions for the New Orleans offense.
JUWAN JOHNSON, WIDE RECEIVER
Johnson looked like an up-and-coming star when he had 54 receptions for 701 yards and a touchdown as a sophomore for Penn State in 2017. He’d transfer to Oregon after an injury-plagued campaign for the Nittany Lions in 2018.
He bounced back strong as a senior with Oregon in 2019, catching 30 passes for 467 yards and a career-high 4 touchdowns. It wasn't enough to get Johnson drafted, however, and he'd sign with New Orleans immediately after the 2020 NFL Draft had concluded.
The 24-year-old Johnson was released at the end of training camp but added back to the practice squad in time for the start of the regular season. He wasn't activated to the active roster until Week 7 against Carolina.
Johnson recorded his first career NFL reception during a Week 8 win at Chicago. He was back to practice squad duty for the next four games but was back on the active roster for the rest of the season after Week 13 because of several injuries to the team's receiving corps.
Johnson caught 4 passes for 39 yards in nine games of action as a rookie. He impressed coaches with his blocking ability, a trait always valued in New Orleans receivers. He also flashed potential as a physical route runner.
Entering his second NFL season, Johnson has another uphill battle to make a talented roster.
He has two traits that benefit him besides his year of experience in the team's system - physicality and versatility.
The Saints are relatively thin at the tight end position. Second-year TE Adam Trautman figures to be the starter, with free-agent veteran addition Nick Vannett slated to be his backup.
New Orleans has had luck in the past with converting collegiate wideouts into productive tight ends.
Johnson doesn't have great speed and will struggle to gain separation against bigger athletic cornerbacks. His advantage as a wideout is his size, which presents a matchup advantage over most defensive backs.
A position switch to tight end would allow Johnson a matchup advantage athletically against most linebackers.
Juwan Johnson is 6’4 and 230-Lbs. He has a wide catch radius and uses his body expertly to shield defenders from the throw.
Johnson absorbs contact well through the reception and has improved his concentration to make the tough catch in traffic.
Johnson has been working out with new Saints quarterback Jameis Winston this offseason to build rapport. He has underrated athleticism, with the ideal size to be a matchup problem for defenses as a wideout with improved route precision.
Johnson's chiseled frame could allow him to add bulk to be a matchup tight end without sacrificing athleticism. He already figured to be a factor in the roster battle at wide receiver, but has the stature, receiving skills, and physicality to play multiple positions.
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