Each week this offseason, we’ll be focusing on one position and how the Panthers may choose to address their needs; whether they’re in the market for an upgrade at starter or just a reliable backup, every player on the 53-man roster is going to be important in 2018.

This is Wide Receiver Week.

While the Panthers have four selections in the first 100 picks of the 2018 draft, with a number of surrounding needs, it is not inconceivable that they will wait to select a receiver until the later rounds of the draft. If they are to find a receiver in the later rounds who will be able to add to the Panthers’ existing receiver group and contribute immediately, they will likely have to look for somebody from a smaller school without amazing production or flashy combine numbers; and if this doesn’t sound hugely appealing, don’t forget this was the case for Antonio Brown back in 2010. While he may not be the next Antonio Brown, Garrett Johnson offers a lot to like from a late-round receiver.

The Upside

Johnson will need to add some weight when he gets to the NFL, as at 5’11 175 lbs, he is a little on the small size; but what this does allow him to be is fast. While Johnson is unlikely to set a new combine record, he consistently showed the ability to run away from defenders while at Kentucky.



While this speed is nice, it is not exactly something that will be missing from the Panthers’ 2018 receiver group with both Samuel and Byrd expected to return. What makes Johnson an intriguing option for the Panthers, however, is how he is able to use his quickness to create separation underneath, something that could allow him to be an effective possession receiver from the slot, with the potential to develop an ability to work outside as well.

Both of the following plays are the same route, and it should be noted that with one of them being on fourth down, it was clear how much confidence the coaching staff had in the receiver; he does well to attack the head of the route, hesitates and then breaks outside, separating enough to make the catch.



This is the basis of much of the underneath routes run by corners in the NFL, and it should be no surprise that the profiles on Moore (LINK) and Hamilton also made note of this ability.

“Make routes to where the corner has to make a decision: he [either] jump the route or he second guesses. If he second guesses, he stops his feet. If he stops his feet, he’s a second behind the pass and that means it’s a completion. You make them think and stop their feet.”

-Steve Smith

Of course, there is more to route running than just this, and while Johnson wasn’t asked to run a hugely nuanced route tree at Kentucky, he showed the ability to create separation with head fakes and a good change of pace, such as on the following play:


Is he Amari Cooper or Odell Beckham, Jr.? No, but he shows enough as a route runner to be considered one of the better prospects in this regard among the 2018 draft class. What he also flashed at times was the ability to make plays after the catch, using his speed, agility and a surprising toughness for a receiver his size.


When combined with his speed, hands and route running, this allows him to be more than just a deep threat or a chain-mover but rather a relatively versatile play-maker. Add these all together and you get eye-popping plays like this:


The Question-marks

For all that Johnson does well, there are downsides to selecting promising players from smaller schools; Johnson will have to add some weight and diversify his route tree in order to be successful in the NFL. What will likely be his biggest barrier, however, will be whether he is able to develop an ability to get release against press coverage; there are successful NFL receivers who are able to mask weaknesses in this area by working largely out of the slot against teams who play a lot of press, but given the number of undersized receivers already on the Panthers’ roster, the ability to work on the outside as well should be a significant factor in determining just how valuable they view Johnson.

Johnson could become a very good receiver in the NFL, and given his unremarkable production at Kentucky and the lack of elite athletic traits, he could be available right at the end of the draft. If the Panthers do look to add a receiver later on who can add something to the existing group while offering a nice balance of potential and immediate production, it would be hard to ignore Johnson’s value late on in the draft.

NFL Best Case Scenario: Antonio Brown
NFL Worst Case Scenario: Mike Davis
Summary: “He doesn’t stand out in terms of production or athleticism, but his combination of speed, savvy and agility offers the ability to contribute from day one with the potential to improve over time”
Grade: B-
Vincent Richardson on Twitter
Vincent Richardson
Managing Editor at Riot Report
Fan of zone coverage, knee bend and running backs running routes. Twitter: @vrichardson444