Charles Johnson’s late-season emergence didn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’d been paying attention to him.
He was a 7th-round pick back in 2013 at least partly because he played his college ball at Grand Valley State. He dominated there, posting stat lines of 56-1,030-15 and 72-1,199-16.
Johnson wasn’t invited to the Combine but turned heads at his Pro Day. At 6’2 and 215 pounds, he ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash, posted a 39.5-inch vertical and broad jumped 133 inches. All 3 of those marks would have ranked among the top 5 WRs at the Combine.
Johnson became even more intriguing when the Packers selected him in the 7th round. That didn’t necessarily give him a great shot at immediate playing time, but it raised his status in our eyes considering how successful GM Ted Thompson has been at drafting WRs.
Johnson never suited up for the Packers, though. He was waived at the end of training camp in 2013 and signed by the Browns a few weeks later. But Cleveland’s doctors discovered a torn ACL, so Johnson spent the year rehabbing.
Healthy for the start of last year’s training camp, Johnson drew raves from the Browns coaching staff and Cleveland media. But he was surprisingly assigned to the practice squad in early September. The Vikings capitalized, plucking him just a few weeks later.
Johnson made his NFL debut in Week 5, playing 15 snaps and catching 1 of 3 targets for 7 yards. He totaled just 5 grabs for 53 scoreless yards over the next 4 games.
But Johnson was given a much larger role down the stretch and took full advantage of the opportunity. Coming out of the Week 10 bye, he played a then season-high 53.2% of the snaps, posting a 6-87 line on 7 targets. He was on the field for over 90% of the snaps in the final 6 games. That stretch produced lines of 3-52-1, 4-104-1 and 5-72.
Over those final 7 weeks, Johnson totaled 47 targets, 25 catches, 415 yards and 2 TDs. The target, catch and yardage marks all led the team. So did Johnson’s 78.5 PPR points – a total that ranked 34th league-wide among WRs.
It was an extremely encouraging stretch for a supremely athletic 26-year-old receiver who should still be getting better. OC Norv Turner was certainly impressed, noting an improvement in the offense after inserting Johnson into the starting lineup.
“It created some differences in how people defended us,” Turner said. “I think we became a much more efficient offensive football team and put ourselves in position to win games.”
Later in the offseason, Turner called Johnson "far and away our best receiver." That came before Minnesota added Mike Wallace. But it’s still plenty possible that Johnson is the Vikings’ best receiver – and most productive this coming season. A full offseason in Turner’s offense will certainly be beneficial.
“Next year will be my first year to actually get my first full year to play in the NFL and two years in a row of practicing and playing in the same system,” Johnson said shortly after the 2014 campaign ended. “Even Norv said the first season in this system is all right, but the second season is always better.”
We’ll be keeping a close eye on how targets will be divvied between Johnson and Wallace. WR Cordarrelle Patterson also figures to see his fair share of action. And a healthy TE Kyle Rudolph will be a significant part of the offense. Plus, the return of RB Adrian Peterson will likely mean a dip in total passing volume.
Draft Sharks Bottom Line:
Johnson emerged down the stretch last year, producing as fantasy’s #34 WR over the final 7 games. We still haven’t seen his ceiling, though. Johnson is only 26 and boasts and elite combination of size and athleticism.
That physical profile alone makes him at least an intriguing WR3 in 2015 fantasy drafts. How much higher he climbs will depend on how many targets he sees in a passing game that also includes Mike Wallace, Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Rudolph. Johnson’s usage will be worth keeping a close eye on this summer. In a feature role, he’s capable of a big breakout season. He’s a recommended target at his 7th-round ADP.