This is the third of a 10-part series detailing potential breakout players for Penn State in 2018.
Monday: WR KJ Hamler
Tuesday: S Garrett Taylor
Yes, Juwan Johnson is an odd choice for a breakout player. He is set to enter his redshirt junior season as the team’s absolute number one receiver after catching 54 passes in 2017. While Johnson is a known commodity among Penn State fans, the 2018 season is when Johnson looks to pull a Jim Collins and truly go from good to great, gaining recognition throughout the college football landscape.
The buzz surrounding Johnson was impossible to miss during the spring camp of 2017. There were near-daily reports of him putting everything together and becoming a special player, just as many had predicted ever since he committed to Penn State. Coaches and teammates just couldn’t stop talking about his progress, setting the stage for him to become a major contributor to the offense in 2017.
He did just that, finishing with 54 receptions for 701 yards (12.9 yards per catch) and a touchdown. But while Johnson was a regular contributor, he still lacked consistency and was at times forgotten about behind the likes of DaeSean Hamilton, Mike Gesicki, and even Saquon Barkley in the passing game. After racking up 84 yards against Akron, he had one catch for four yards against Pitt and two receptions for 17 yards against Georgia State. He showed his first signs of greatness against Iowa with a big night that included seven catches for 92 yards and his first career touchdown, which you could say came at a kind of critical moment:
However, in losses against Ohio State and Michigan State, Johnson managed just five catches for 56 yards as the offense stalled in the second half in Columbus, and never seemed to wake up in East Lansing.
But if you need assurance for Johnson’s future success, look no further than the final four games of Penn State’s 2017 season. This is when Johnson came into his own, and found the consistency that will lead to his role as Trace McSorley’s top target in 2018. Of his 54 receptions, 22 came in the final four games (including the Fiesta Bowl victory against Washington). He had five receptions and averaged 78 yards per contest, including a 105-yard effort in horrendously sloppy conditions against Nebraska.
Stats aside, there was something obvious with Johnson’s transformation towards the end of the season. Something clicked, and Johnson was able to use his tremendous physical talents to become one of the rising stars of college football. At 6-4 and 229 lbs., Johnson has the size to create mismatches against any secondary. He can go over the middle and make the tough catch in traffic to move the chains on a key third down. He also has the speed to stretch the field. Johnson can be used in so many ways that you can be assured new offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne will look to get the ball in his hands as often as possible, even with the collection of playmakers on Penn State’s offense.
While Johnson may not be a household name yet, others are already beginning to take notice. Recently, Sporting News listed him as the first receiver off the board and seventh overall pick in its 2019 mock draft (Johnson has eligibility to remain at Penn State through the 2019 season).
The stage is set for Johnson to take the next step, and follow along the path set by Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin and DaeSean Hamilton who have suddenly created a pipeline of outstanding receivers in Happy Valley. This season will start off with plenty of hype for Johnson, and could very well end with his name on the All-American team, with many clips added to the highlight reel along the way.