View pictures of WR Tyler Johnson, the 161st overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft
A group of scouts and player personnel pros were in attendance for the very last game of Tyler Johnson's collegiate career. Given how that game went, it's not surprising that Johnson new calls himself a Buccaneer.
On Saturday, Tampa Bay selected Johnson, an athletic and highly productive wide receiver from the University of Minnesota, with the 16th pick of the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, number 161 overall. Johnson won first-team All-Big Ten honors each of the past two years and capped his career with perhaps his best game ever in Minnesota's Outback Bowl win over Auburn at Raymond James Stadium on New Year's Day.
Buccaneers Director of Player Personnel John Spytek was among the Buccaneer group on hand as Johnson set career highs with 12 catches and 204 yards and scored two touchdowns in the Gophers' 31-26 over a strong Auburn squad, a performance that included some eye-opening plays.
"He had an outstanding, outstanding Outback Bowl," said Spytek. "We were all there scouting in person, not that we hadn't noticed it before. But that game, including that one-handed catch by the pirate ship, just made you go back and look at the tape again. To put up big numbers against an SEC opponent, and a really good SEC opponent – that's what you're looking for."
The Bucs had to wait a while to make their first selections on the third day of the draft, as they had given up the first of their two fourth-round picks in the trade for tight end Rob Gronkowski earlier in the week and the second one in Thursday night's move up to secure tackle Tristan Wirfs. When they did finally get on the clock around three hours into the draft, they continued the theme suggested by those two trades above: Protect Tom Brady and give him as many weapons as possible.
As such, Johnson joins an attack that features the Pro Bowl wide receiver combo of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and a tight end trio of Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. The Buccaneers also used a third-round pick on Friday on versatile Vanderbilt running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn, who joins third-year man Ronald Jones in the backfield. That's a crowded group of targets but the Bucs believe Johnson can find a place in their aerial attack as a versatile and technically-sound pass-catcher who can move around the formation.
"That's up to the coaches, of course, but I would say from my point of view that he's a guy who, with the way we play, can play outside or inside for us. His ability to understand and know all the different spots helps," said Spytek. "He played all the different spots up at Minnesota and operated at a high level there. He's got to make a transition to our offense, but you feel good about his ability to make that transition in the NFL and play several spots based on what we saw from him in college."
The 6-2, 205-pound Johnson was a star quarterback as a prep in the state of Minnesota but he converted to wide receiver and went on to shatter the Gophers' record books over his four-season tenure. Johnson holds Minnesota's all-time standards in receiving yards (3,305), 100-yard receiving games (16) and touchdown catches (33). He also set the school's single-season record for receptions, yards and scoring catches as a senior in 2019, hauling in 86 passes for 1,318 yards and 13 touchdowns. Johnson added another 16 catches for 261 yards and four touchdowns in three bowl games, all school records as well.
"He is just a good football player, a natural athlete," said Spytek. "He was highly-decorated as a quarterback in high school, led his team to the state championship game as a senior. Sometimes those kids who play quarterback at a younger age or in high school and then move to receiver end up with a great understanding and feel for coverages and how to get open. They know how to work with a quarterback and have a really good rapport with him. This kid just happens to be a really, really good athlete, too, so he was able to make that transition pretty seamlessly. He was highly productive in one of the best football conferences in the country."
In addition to his all-conference honors in 2018 and 2019, Johnson was an honorable mention all-Big Ten choice as a sophomore and was named the Outstanding Offensive Freshman at Minnesota in 2016. He totaled 164 catches for 2,481 yards and 25 touchdowns over his final two college campaigns.
"He's efficient, he's savvy," said Spytek. "He's got good size, probably very similar in size to Chris Godwin. He's quick – quick feet, good body control, good enough speed – and a lot of times those guys end up being good short and intermediate route-runners but this kid, he just knows how to get open. He can get open deep, too, with some double moves and his ability to run. Again, [he's] just a very instinctive, smart football player."
The Buccaneers benefited from an incredibly deep group of receivers available in the 2020 draft. Johnson was the 21st receiver off the board, and six more fell in rapid succession in the fifth round.
"It's like we talked about with the safeties – you just never know when the run is going to start," said Spytek. "If it's a shallow class, the run starts and they all disappear quickly. The receivers started going pretty early in Round One but it's well-documented that most people think this is an extremely deep wide receiver class – and I would agree with that – and you get to Day Three and people are just trying to find good football players who fit their team. I think Tyler is a good example of that for us – he's a good football player who fits what we want to do offensively."