Whenever I’m looking at an old recruiting class for whatever reason, I can’t help but wonder if a given player’s outcome was inevitable, or if it was the blind Plinko-esque bounces of fate that had a heavier hand in a player’s career path.
Take our headline photo up there, for example. Tyler Johnson was recruited initially in the waning days of the Jerry Kill regime. Per the 247 composite, he was the #561 prospect in the 2016 class, a 3* hometown prospect from Minneapolis. He’s listed as a dual-threat QB, and does have offers listed from Iowa, Iowa State, and Wisconsin, but that’s it. No one further away made the trip to take a look at Tyler Johnson.
He committed to Jerry Kill’s team that, at the time, had garnered plenty of praise for hauling the derelict Minnesota program out of the trench Tim Brewster had left it in. It was certainly fair to say, though, that even Kill’s best teams were never offensively prolific, and their best offenses barely had space for two wide receivers on the field most of the time. Ergo, this was perhaps not the most auspicious stage for a diamond in the rough to prove himself.
By the time Johnson arrived on campus, Kill had retired/resigned, and Minnesota then entered into its bizarre one-year Tracy Claeys era. On paper, things went fine - the team made it to 9-4 overall with one of the more hideous Holiday Bowl wins ever. Johnson got in the mix right away, but his stats reflected those of a supporting receiver in a run-first, -second and -third offense
But Claeys’ ham-fisted handling of a sexual assault investigation, which included him supporting a players’ boycott and predicting his own firing.
Enter, then, P.J. Fleck, who we now know to be the greatest coach in the history of athletics, but who at the time was merely another in a long string of intriguing G5 coaches trying to make the jump to the big show.
One thing Fleck’s track record from Western Michigan showed, however, was his willingness to tear it down to the studs, see if there was anything worth salvaging, and then build from the ground up.
As it transpired, there were not many other capable receivers on the roster, and Johnson quickly emerged as the undisputed top option as a sophomore. His star continued to rise with Fleck’s quickly improving program, and by the time his career in the Twin Cities was over, he had taken a Sharpie to the Golden Gopher receiving record books.
For all his collegiate accolades, the NFL evidently saw only a receiver prospect of average size, average speed, kinda iffy hand size and wingspan, and his draft positioning suffered accordingly, as he fell to the Buccaneers in the 6th round. Tampa Bay was well-stocked out wide, pairing Mike Evans with Penn State product Chris Godwin, who had just had his own breakout campaign in 2019, and a deep group of tight ends.
But, much as a coaching change in his collegiate career likely opened a playbook that put him on the path here, fate interceded on Johnson’s behalf again. After going inactive the first 4 weeks of his rookie season, Johnson got the nod with Godwin nursing a concussion. The stat line doesn’t jump off the page - 4/61/0 on 6 targets. But that freshman season stat line doesn’t turn one’s head, either.
Anthony Brown (Purdue) Cowboys CB: Brown, who toiled in anonymity through the Hazell era in West Lafayette, has made a solid pro career for himself, and enjoyed that rarest of treats for a defensive player as he scooped a fumble for a defensive touchdown.
Jerome Baker (Ohio State) / Andrew Van Ginkel (Wisconsin) Dolphins LBs: Baker (8 tackles, TFL, sack) has made this rundown before with his sheet-stuffing tendencies, but this was probably Van Ginkel’s highest-impact game of his young pro career so far, as he notched a sack amongst his 6 tackles.
Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State) Washington QB: We’ve kept this mostly positive, but in one of the bigger stories of the NFL week, new Washington head coach Ron Rivera has evidently decided to move on from Haskins as his QB, not only benching him, but demoting him to 3rd string ahead of this week’s loss to the Rams. Until recently, it was unthinkable to cash out on a first-round pick QB so quickly, but Arizona’s success in defenestrating Josh Rosen in favor of Kyler Murray might have Washington thinking they can do the same.