Cornelius Johnson, WR, Michigan | NFL Draft Scouting Report

Overlooked in an average Michigan passing attack, does WR Cornelius Johnson have the tools to transcend his production this upcoming season?

The Michigan Wolverines’ imprint on the early rounds of the NFL draft may not be as strong in 2023, but WR Cornelius Johnson has a chance to tip the scales back in their favor with a productive 2022 showing. Johnson’s NFL Draft scouting report deserves more recognition than it draws. Johnson is the kind of player that could be an even better pro.

Cornelius Johnson NFL draft profile

Production is repeatedly an important measure to consider for WR prospects on the NFL draft stage, but there remains a lack of consensus regarding just how important production is. Most people generally agree that there’s a certain threshold, but every year, we see traits-rich receivers with modest production go overlooked.

Barring an explosive 2022 breakout, Johnson could fall under this category in the 2023 NFL Draft. He’s is coming off a career campaign that saw him catch 40 passes for 627 yards and three touchdowns. Johnson is not a dominant receiver by any stretch. And yet, his tools pop on tape.

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Johnson’s talent is no secret. He was a high four-star recruit on all outlets out of high school, with a documented 4.58 40-yard dash, a 36.7″ vertical jump, and a 4.14 shuttle time. One can only assume that time in Michigan’s training program has only boosted those numbers, and Johnson absolutely looks the part on film.

At his size, Johnson’s brand of athleticism is coveted. But is there enough on his tape to overlook the modest production and bank on the traits? Let’s discuss.

  • Position: Wide Receiver
  • School: Michigan
  • Current Year: Senior
  • Height/Weight: 6’3″, 208 pounds

Cornelius Johnson scouting report

Setting is everything for NFL draft prospects. Johnson’s setting in Michigan’s offense may have diluted his production in 2021. But looking at the pure diagnostic traits, there’s a lot to like that gets overlooked on the stat sheet.

Johnson’s positives

Johnson has long been lauded for his combination of size and athleticism, and those traits remain assets today. The 6’3″, 208-pound Michigan WR has a tall, wiry frame with exceptional length and a formidable catch radius. He supplements that frame with elite explosive capacity. Johnson is an extremely explosive athlete who accelerates instantly off the line. He loads up ample potential energy in his track stance and can throttle up on demand to attack open zones.

Not only does Johnson have superb linear acceleration, but he can also use curvilinear acceleration to pinch angles around tight coverage while surging upfield. His curvilinear acceleration allows him to sink and explode along rounded breaks, attacking space. Additionally, he can gear up to disrupt tackling angles and escape into open space as a RAC threat.

Johnson’s athletic profile is surprisingly complete for his size. He has great twitch and energy in his movement. The Wolverine can use fast feet in open space to chop his strides, disrupt DB tackling angles, and cut upfield. He’s a fleet-footed athlete who can use sudden steps to gain displacement on releases, and he can cut moderately acute angles with lateral twitch and foot speed on routes.

That same twitch can be used to make defenders miss after the catch in space, and Johnson’s hips are loose enough to stack direction changes quickly, supplementing his amped-up movement style.

Johnson also has the necessary long speed to stretch the field and get open past deep coverage. His explosiveness is an asset early in reps, but Johnson can rip off big chunks of yardage with long-strider speed once he turns upfield. He can elongate windows up tight seams and along the boundary.

Getting open downfield is one thing, but a receiver must be able to convert when the ball comes his way, regardless of athletic talent. Johnson shows promise here. He’s able to make smooth adjustments to short passes thrown behind him and corral in-stride. He can easily bring in RAC passes without losing speed over the middle of the field.

Moreover, Johnson can rise vertically and extend beyond his frame for passes farther downfield, showing a good sense of timing. He can track the ball in-stride and position himself effectively, and he cradles the ball with soft hands.

Cornelius Johnson NFL draft
Apr 2, 2022; Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA; Michigan Wolverines wide receiver Cornelius Johnson (6) runs the ball during the Spring game at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Johnson’s hand-eye coordination can be a bit inconsistent at times, but he undoubtedly has the hand strength to work through contact. He can snare passes in-stride through tight coverage, using his hands to clamp down and secure throws. His length ensures that he can work away from his frame and out-reach smaller defensive backs.

While much of Johnson’s appeal comes from his size and athleticism, he’s a much more proficient route runner than most WRs in this mold. Johnson flashes great stopping ability and hip sink. He can push to the boundary and then quickly sink and break inside, and he attacks routes with a full head of steam. He is able to chop his feet quickly to halt, sink, and redirect at stems, and he has the loose hips to swivel around tightly and cut sharp angles while decelerating.

Expanding on his route running, Johnson has shown that he can use his head to feign intent and bait DBs into committing upfield. He can work into blind spots and manipulate defenders into over-setting at stems.

Taking it a step further, Johnson shows the awareness and quick processing to chop stems as soon as he enters blind spots, actively exploiting DBs and capitalizing on positioning. He can press upfield at stems and sink into breaks, carrying acceleration, and he adjusts angles while pushing the throttle, employing curvilinear acceleration with ease.

Johnson’s freedom with throttle, foot speed, and angle manipulation, combined with his physical tools, gives him rare upside as a route runner. Beyond that, he’s physical enough to compete in all phases.

He can use his length to unleash targeted swipes and pry past coverage at stems, and he’s shown that he can rip down jams while attacking upfield, resisting re-routing attempts. After the catch, Johnson can step through arm tackles in space and recollect his strides quickly after encountering indirect contact.

Finally, Johnson brings some projected appeal as a run blocker. His length and play strength allow him to extend and lock out DBs. He also has the strength to anchor defenders and generate movement downfield. Johnson can use shuffle-steps to square up and match defenders. Overall, he’s a high-effort blocker who brings good energy and pace.

Johnson’s areas for improvement

Johnson’s biggest strides in the future should come as a natural receiver. Although he can stand to see more quality targets come his way, he can further improve his hand consistency and catching instincts. Johnson sometimes keeps his head down too far upfield and is late to get his head back to track the ball. He can also be susceptible to focus drops when faced with imminent contact, resorting to body-catching and failing to secure with his hands.

Elsewhere, Johnson can be a bit staggered and leggy when stacking direction changes and lateral movements. While his hips are fairly loose overall, he does show minor stiffness on occasion. He doesn’t quite have the elite agility to make sharp cuts upfield without gathering himself, and he doesn’t quite have elite breakaway speed, either. He checks all the boxes athletically, but his only quantifiably elite trait is his explosiveness.

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As a route runner, Johnson can strive to channel his talent with more efficiency. He occasionally takes a few too many steps to decelerate and halt his momentum on comeback routes, and he doesn’t quite have elite stopping ability.

Johnson can also work to be sharper with route transitions, as he sometimes rounds off breaks without accelerating, keying in DBs. At the line, he sometimes experiences a delay between releases and advances upfield. He can also do a better job pressing and sinking at stems. He has the capacity, but still has room for greater consistency.

Johnson has room to further maximize his skill set as a blocker, too. He sometimes lurches past his center of gravity, impacting his ability to sustain blocks. His technique can be inconsistent. With a poor center of gravity and wide arms, he will allow DBs to work inside and drive him off-balance.

Current draft projection for Michigan WR Cornelius Johnson

As of now, there isn’t a great deal of hype surrounding Johnson. But for my money, he adds valuable depth to the 2023 NFL Draft WR class, and he should be a safe candidate to be selected. In fact, I think he has early-round upside. With a productive year catching passes from Cade McNamara or J.J. McCarthy, early-to-mid Day 2 is certainly a possibility.

Johnson’s combination of length, explosiveness, and energy is enticing, and he’s already shown that he can channel his traits and separate independently as a route runner. When evaluating developing route runners, you look for the building blocks first — stopping ability, hip sink, throttle control, and curvilinear acceleration. Johnson has all of those in his toolbox, and he’s shown that he can employ them with speed and precision.

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A high-quality athlete with high-quality route running is translatable to the NFL, and Johnson’s physical traits bode well for his utility in other phases. At over 200 pounds, he has the size and frame density to break arm tackles and compete in contested situations. His length not only gives him a catch radius that can supersede smaller defensive backs, but it also allows him to swipe and beat press in tandem with his lateral agility.

Johnson has the size, speed, and complete skill set to be a quality boundary X-receiver at the NFL level, but he can also be moved inside to the slot, where his acceleration and size could be valuable over the middle of the field. Johnson isn’t a player you want to pigeonhole. At his ceiling, Johnson can be a supremely dynamic weapon for a pro offense.

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