Charles Johnson joined the Minnesota Vikings two weeks into this season, two days after the release of Jerome Simpson because of continuing off-the-field troubles.
Signing a player off Cleveland’s practice squad in mid-September is not the type of transaction that causes a stir. This was simply a move by the Vikings to give a young wide receiver a try, with an opening at that position following Simpson’s release.
Little did anyone around the league realize then that the Vikings had actually acquired their primary pass-catcher.
“I’d never heard of him. I’d never seen him before,” teammate Jarius Wright said. “But I’ve played receiver for a long time, so you know good receivers when you see them. We knew he definitely had a talent and that he could help us out.”
Johnson was a seventh-round draft pick by Green Bay last year who finished his college career at NCAA Division II power Grand Valley State in Michigan.
In two seasons for the Lakers, Johnson had 128 receptions, 2,229 yards and 31 touchdowns in 22 games. At GVSU’s pro day workout for NFL scouts, Johnson ran a couple of 40-yard dashes under 4.4 seconds. With a 6-foot-2, 215-pound frame, he had the physical potential.
There’s that whole small-school thing, though. Was the success he had more because of the level of competition?
“I know some small-school guys are great, just like myself,” Johnson said, adding: “I just go out there and play my game. They’ll see how it is. Once they line up and they have to guard me, they’ll see how I can play.”
Not here. Johnson has been targeted 30 times over the past four games by Teddy Bridgewater for a team-high 26.5 percent. Johnson has 15 catches for 283 yards and two touchdowns and was inches from another score on Sunday against the New York Jets when he fumbled at the goal line and Jerome Felton recovered for the touchdown.
That gaffe was quickly forgiven.
“He made some plays the first week or two and then I was like, ‘This guy might be able to play,’” said Felton, who hadn’t heard of Johnson, either, when he signed. Felton added: “It’s always cool to see a guy come in that comes in from nothing and gets an opportunity and takes advantage of it.”
Johnson has overtaken Cordarrelle Patterson, one of the team’s first-round draft picks last year, at the split end or “X” position.
“He’s a great route runner. He’s a guy who’s very patient. He’s a guy who’s going to continue to work hard. We’ve seen nothing but flashes from him ever since he’s arrived here,” Bridgewater said.
Johnson was put on the practice squad by the Packers last season until the Browns picked him up. He was diagnosed with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee when he arrived, however, a training camp injury he’d been defiantly playing through.
Johnson came back with the Browns this year, and then the Vikings called. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner were with him in Cleveland last season.
So while Johnson joining the Vikings was not by chance, choosing Grand Valley State was. After starting at Eastern Kentucky and transferring to a Southern California junior college following a suspension, Johnson took a year off to be near his ailing father.
When he was ready to resume his career, he learned he’d have an additional season of eligibility at a non-Division I school. So he googled the nation’s top Division II teams and discovered Grand Valley State.
These days, Johnson is the one the search engines are turning up.
“I’m still young and I’m still new to this game of NFL football,” he said. “I’m just going to keep getting better each and every week.”
Teammates know Charles Johnson’s name now
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