It’s Time for Tyler Johnson to Step Up

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There haven’t been many wide receiver rooms as good from top to bottom as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers currently boast. Their top three wide receivers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown – when healthy – would be true number one wide receivers on many current NFL rosters.  It’s basically situation of 1a, 1b, and 1c options among the talented trio – with the a’s, b’s, and c’s changing from week to week. It’s a good problem to have for head coach Bruce Arians.

It can also make it difficult for young players to get much playing time and develop. Behind the big three, Scotty Miller and Breshad Perriman have also produced in some significant form or fashion over the last few years. When their number was called, they made plays that helped the team win.

Now it’s time for another receiver to make that same impact – Tyler Johnson. Johnson is the most likely to take over the slot role from Godwin following the latter’s season-ending ACL injury. He’s had sporadic opportunities over the last two seasons. Unfortunately he has largely remained in the shadows of his position mates.

So Who is Tyler Johnson?

The 6’1″, 206-pound Johnson was drafted in the 5th round (161st pick) of the 2020 NFL Draft. At Minnesota, Johnson gradually progressed from his freshman to senior seasons. His reception total and yardage increased substantially each year, culminating in a senior stat line of 86 catches for 1318 yards and 13 touchdowns.

If you go back and look at some of the draft projections, one of his commonly-lauded skills was his ball tracking skills and ability to make difficult catches. That’s proven to be true.  What most Bucs fans likely think about so far when they think about Johnson is his clutch, body-twisting grab on third and 11 to extend a key drive against the Saints in last year’s playoffs.

And that’s what Johnson has done well. While he isn’t one to shimmy and blow by many cornerbacks in man coverage, he’s more able than many to pull down a ball that’s placed in his area.

But that’s the question with Johnson: is he capable of getting open consistently? And I think that’s probably the largest thing he’s going to have to prove if he’s going to be a productive replacement for Godwin down the stretch.

Speaking of Godwin, he’s an underappreciated blocker for his size, at least in comparison to his lofty receiving stats. One thing that’s hard to deny about Johnson is his physicality. He’s a capable blocker willing to challenge anyone, including linebackers, in run blocking.

Where Does Johnson Fit In?

Johnson probably will not man a full time role in the slot, as the Bucs have rotated Evans, Johnson, and Rob Gronkowski into the slot throughout the season behind Godwin.  However, Johnson is going to likely start with the majority of snaps in the slot with Evans still on the mend with a hamstring injury.

I would expect to see Brown and Perriman on the outside with Johnson in the slot more often than not.  I would also expect to see Gronkowski’s slot percentage go up significantly from where it was. But the bottom line is this position will primarily be Johnson’s for the remainder of the regular season.

Again, one of my primary concerns is his ability to separate against a tough, physical slot corner playing up on the line of scrimmage, but the excuses are lessened when you have a quarterback as accurate as Tom Brady that can thread the needle and throw guys open.

The next man up is perhaps the biggest cliche in sports, but it also rings true. Johnson is the next man up for the Buccaneers. He’s near the end of his second year in this offense. It’s time for him to step forward and earn his keep on this roster.

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