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Posted July 29, 2008
2008 NFL Draft: My No. 1 Rookie Sleeper:
"With the 252nd pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints select Marques Colston, wide receiver, Hofstra," and one of the biggest NFL Draft steals of all time was born. He was a seventh-round pick with a 4.55 40 time from a very small school.
In the 2008 NFL Draft, teams sought out for the next small-school wideout stud. The Bengals took Coastal Carolina product Jerome Simpson in the second round. Tampa Bay snagged the speedy Dexter Jackson out of Appalachian State in the second. Richmond receiver Arman Schields was taken by the Raiders in the fourth.
When I evaluate a player, games are 95 percent of my evaluation. Anyone who talks about 40 times a lot and changes up their big board five or six times during the Combine/Pro Day season doesn't put much emphasis on the actual games. You'd think that's the way to go, but in today's world, a lot of momentum is built up after the actual season. It's why four of the top five picks didn't attend the Senior Bowl, for fear of falling down draft boards with one bad week.
That's pretty much what happened with my sleeper.
Michigan State product Devin Thomas was said to be the No. 1 receiver in the draft if you polled the majority of draftniks. He had 1,260 yards and eight touchdowns in 2007. In 2006, he had 90 yards and one score. He only had one good season.
And by now, you're sick of reading this article without knowing who my No. 1 sleeper in the 2008 NFL Draft. Well, it's none other than Kentucky wideout Steve Johnson.
Johnson is dubbed an unathletic, one-year wonder as the reason why he fell to pick No. 224 in the 2008 Draft.
Why is he unathletic? People point to 40 times of 4.59 and 4.63 at the combine. Remember what I said about people who rave about 40s; they cannot evaluate game speed, so they have to rely on measurements.
"One-year wonder" is the label Johnson is dubbed as. He had 1,052 yards and 13 touchdowns in the toughest conference in the country. In 2006, he had 159 yards and one score. If you're going to blame Johnson for falling to the seventh because he was a "one-year wonder," then please also say Thomas should have been a fifth-round pick.
Johnson is a big receiver at 6-2, 210, with good muscle definition. He has very underrated speed from the game film I taped of him. He truly made some plays that just shocked me, and you will those in a second.
Johnson was Andre Woodson's No. 1 target last year after Keenan Burton went down with an injury, and he sure did deliver. He caught the game-winning pass against Louisville. He put up 111 yards on seven catches in a road game versus Arkansas. He made a few very critical plays on third down. He got better as the season went along. Versus No. 1 LSU, he put up 134 yards and the game-winning touchdown on just seven catches. Next week, he dominated Florida for 128 yards. In the final four games of the season, he accumulated 386 yards and five touchdowns. He finished his career very strong, he improved his route running, and he gained a ton of confidence.
On to the aforementioned game tape:
Play No. 1: This play displays how Johnson maximizes the yardage in the open field, which is the staple of the West Coast offense. (No. 13 at top of screen at flanker) Dig route: Notice after the catch, the amazing juke, then the automatic acceleration up the field. He avoided tackles and maximized the play.
Starting at 1:39 - http://youtube.com/watch?v=2vfJg3kIlBg
Play No. 2: To get 13 touchdowns, you have to be a pretty good red-zone receiver. Fade route; notice how Johnson catches the ball away from his body at the highest point possible, secures the ball, gets a foot inbounds, and displays those excellent ball skills. This play takes a lot of talent to make. Johnson uses his 6-2 frame to his advantage over the defensive back, and makes it look easy.
Starting at 4:36 - http://youtube.com/watch?v=C7rcH_VIPMA&feature=related
Play No. 3: Again, another play displaying his great ball skills. He gains a lot of separation on the smash route, and notice once again he makes the catch away from his body. He gained a solid eight yards after the catch, maximizing the play.
Starting at 4:46 - http://youtube.com/watch?v=2MhoCu28Uys&feature=related
Play No. 4: Same game versus LSU, but this is the game-winner. Goal line, sluggo route (slant n' go), double move. He leaves the corner stumbling in his jock as he hauls in the decisive grab. I love how Johnson sells the slant, then makes a hard cut. It's simply beautiful work and he reaps the reward with the touchdown. Again, notice the soft hands and catch made away from his body. This is great route running and clutch-play ability.
Starting at 3:07 - http://youtube.com/watch?v=D-VzpS41y0I&feature=related
Play #5: This was one of the most explosive plays I saw any receiver make out of the 2008 NFL Draft class. Bubble screen; watch Johnson make the catch then explode past the entire Florida State defense. Just an amazing play to say the least. Forty time? Take the 4.63 seconds. I love this play. In the open field, Johnson maximizes the yardage of the play once again at 5:39, setting up Myron Rolle for a very big touchdown. This is a game-breaking play, and it's why I love Johnson's fit in a West Coast offense.
Starting at 5:35 - http://youtube.com/watch?v=3wTSX9xwg2s&feature=related
If you think it's all about a 40 time, then during every game next season, get out a stopwatch. Time every player on the field, forget about breaking tackles, making the catch, or running routes being a part of the game... just time everyone. I'd like to see how far you get with that. I watch game tape, and on game tapel Steve Johnson was a player I gave a second-round draft grade. He is a very complete receiver who has great ball skills, clutch-catch ability and improving route running. He's a good redzone target who maximizes the yardage of the play.
I'm not expecting Steve Johnson to put up 900-1,000 yards next year, yet I also wouldn't be shocked if he beat out James Hardy for the No. 2 job by season's end. He will make an immediate contribution for the Bills somehow. About 450-600 yards is what I'm guessing. Nothing spectacular, but over time we are going to look back and think how a player as talented as Johnson fell to pick 224.
Once again, this is the NFL Draft. It's never going to be perfect. We are going to have busts in the top 10 and steals on Day 2. But for me, the Bills made highway robbery grabbing Steve Johnson in the seventh round.