Film study: WR Charles Johnson

Charles Johnson emerged as a legitimate starting receiver last year, but with only one season of NFL experience there are areas of his game that can use work. We look at the different skills he brings, along with some areas to improve.

Wide receiver Charles Johnson may have been one of the biggest surprises for the Minnesota Vikings last year. He began his NFL career as a seventh-round draft pick by the Green Bay Packers and was placed on their practice squad. The Cleveland Browns then claimed him off the Packers practice in 2013.

However, he never had the chance to even practice for the Browns. After his physical, it was discovered Johnson had a torn ACL – an injury that he was not even aware of. He was actually sitting in front of his locker lacing up his cleats getting ready to go out and practice. Then the doctor gave him the bad news.

It was the idea of Norv and Scott Turner to bring Johnson to Cleveland. Then once they left, he ended up on the team’s practice squad. But the Turners soon found him on Cleveland’s practice squad and brought him to Minnesota with them.

Johnson began his time in Minnesota as the No. 5 receiving option, but once he showcased his talents on the practice field, he soon climbed up the depth chart. He was initially used as a deep threat that would come in a couple times during the game, but eventually he got his shot as a full-time receiver.

Cordarrelle Patterson was struggling and other receivers on the roster were injured. So Johnson got his chance to play and he never looked back.

He took over Patterson’s starting job as the Vikings’ X receiver and began to develop a good relationship with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The two seemed to be on the same page all the time, which helped Johnson record 31 receptions for 475 yards and two touchdowns.

There are a lot of high expectations being placed on Johnson for this upcoming season, not just by the Vikings fan base, but by the national media and the Vikings coaching staff as well.

He has been named as one of the players to watch in 2015 by multiple analysts and the coaching staff already has him as one of the Vikings’ top receivers in OTAs. This sort of thing had already happened to Patterson a year ago, so now the question is whether Johnson can have a better outcome.

Viking Update takes a look at Johnson’s play from 2014 to see what the Vikings have in their wide receiver.

Play No. 1
There are many things that Johnson does well, but he is still an inexperienced player so you have to expect he will struggle in some areas. One of the biggest things he seems to struggle with is out-battling defensive backs. Once the defenders start to get physical with Johnson, he seems to get thrown out of the play.

This first play is an example of that. Johnson (12) is the lone receiver at the bottom of the screen and he tries to run a quick slant to the inside. The cornerback attempts to throw him off his route by getting his hands on him right when he releases and it works.

It looks as though Johnson gets shoved way off his route and even stumbles a little bit. It’s one of the last things you want to have happen on this type of play because it is a timing route. So when he gets bumped this far off the route, he is nowhere near the ball when Bridgewater throws it.

This type of thing seemed to happen at least once per game later in the season. Johnson would have an opportunity to make a play but would either drop the ball or end up stumbling before he could even get to the ball because of a defensive back’s physicality. If Johnson truly wants to become a No. 1 receiver he will have to learn how to battle back and come down with these balls.

Play No. 2
This next play, however, shows one of the reasons why the Vikings wanted to keep Johnson out on the field whenever possible – his speed. As mentioned earlier, he was first used as a deep threat, but the speed he possesses allows him to turn a short play into a big gain.

In this play, Johnson is lined up as the slot receiver on the near side of the field. He runs a shallow crossing route and is able to run into an open window in the middle of the field. Bridgewater is then able to connect with him and Johnson is able to get up field in a hurry for a 40-yard gain.

That ability to break any play into a big gain is important for playmakers, especially ones like Johnson, who is on the brink of becoming a high-caliber receiving threat.

Play No. 3
Not only can Johnson use his speed to create big plays, but he also has the ability to run good routes in order to create separation. In this next play, Johnson is lined up on the far side of the field. The defender is already lined up 10 yards off the line of scrimmage to respect Johnson’s speed, but by running a good route Johnson has the ability to get past him.

Johnson runs up to the defender and stutter-steps. That then causes the defender to come up to him because it seems as though Johnson is going to cut his route off short. So once the defender tries to jump the route, Johnson is easily able to get by him and open for the touchdown.

Running good routes is important for any wide receiver because it helps create separation. While playing at the NFL level, the defenders are usually talented and athletic enough to match a receiver step for step. But by running a good route the receiver is able to create separation and find open space.

Play No. 4
Earlier, we pointed out that Johnson could struggle with physical defenders covering him. Although that is still true at time, there were other times where Johnson was able to out-muscle the defenders and get by them. He is a big-bodied receiver, so just by using his size alone he should usually be able to do this.

In this play, the defender tries to jam Johnson right on the line of scrimmage, but he is able to muscle his way past. Once he gets off the jam, there is no one behind him and Bridgewater is able to connect with him for a touchdown.

Johnson needs to be able to create more plays like this one if he wants to continue in his development. He has the size to work past most defenders he is lined up against, but for one reason or another he has not been able to do it on a consistent basis. But until he is able to figure this out on a consistent basis you can be sure he will face press coverage often.

Play No. 5
Another area of his game that Johnson will need to improve on is run blocking.

In this play, you can see Johnson look very confused as to what he is supposed to be doing. He originally begins to block the defensive back covering him, but then looks towards the middle of the field as if he was supposed to block someone else. He then goes rushing over there and doesn’t get a hand on anybody.

Blocking downfield is always an important skill for receivers to have, especially if the team wants to spring a big play. If Johnson wants to continue to be an every-down type of receiver, this will need to be something he improves on because the team can’t take him off the field every time they want to run the ball. You can be sure the coaching staff will be working with him on this plenty in the offseason.

Johnson is still a very inexperienced receiver since last season was really the first time he got to play at the NFL level. He is a big-bodied receiver with plenty of speed, which is what a lot of teams try to find in a receiver. There are still a couple things he needs to learn, but he has the potential to be a very good receiver for the Vikings moving forward.

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