Good Morning, Bolts From the Blue.
Quentin Johnston, the Chargers’ first round selection in the 2023 NFL Draft, has come under a lot of criticism by fans and analysts alike. The main point of contention was the critical drop on the final drive on what could have been a game winning touchdown had he hauled in the pass from Justin Herbert. Quentin himself has said this mistake was his alone and I am certainly not here to defend this play however I feel like the rookie wide receiver has come under unfair criticism about his play in general so I wanted to give some context to the discussion both from a historical comparison to other players, and by looking at some of his tape from the Week 11 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
Firstly I think it’s important to state that Chris Beatty, the Bolts’ wide receivers coach, has an excellent track record in developing his guys into reliable weapons. One of the key components of his style is taking his time, both Beatty and the Chargers’ organization are not fans of rushing the growth in exchange for early production.
- Mike Williams had 11 receptions on 23 targets (48% catch rate) for 95 yards and zero touchdowns over 10 games in his rookie year.
- Josh Palmer had 20 receptions on 28 targets (71% catch rate) for 234 yards and two touchdowns over his first 11 games.
- Quentin Johnston has 20 receptions on 34 targets (58% catch rate) for 183 yards and a touchdown over his first 11 games.
Next I think it’s always good to look past the numbers and into the tape, so I checked out the all-22 of the Packers’ game and what I saw impressed me overall. He pretty consistently beats press off the line to the point where both Carrington Valentine and Corey Ballentine stopped trying to get in his face as they could tell it was going to end badly. His footwork and burst off the line are something that should excite fans, Mike Williams has never shown this kind of release and Josh Palmer has only developed it in his third year.
QJ isn’t just good when facing press, he is starting to get the hang of how to use his skill set to attack off coverage too. On the touchdown drive he hit Carrington Valentine with a nasty out’n’up using a head fake to get him to bite down before opening his long strides to get up to full speed and win over the top. If the pass protection didn’t break down then this could have been an easy touchdown.
Johnston definitely has areas to improve on; his run blocking is poor (in terms of both attitude and technique), then in terms of route running he needs to understand zone better and when he knows he isn’t in the progression it shows from the off as he takes his foot off the gas slightly. These three points of criticism are things you normally expect from most rookie receivers and they are kept off the field for exactly these reasons. However the most obvious element, his catching, leaves a lot to be desired. The drops are somewhat concerning, his technique hasn’t gotten much better from his TCU days and it is something he needs to address in the offseason. That said, he is still only 361 snaps into his career and there is plenty of time to fix this issue.
The main thing I keep seeing is that the connection with Justin Herbert just isn’t there yet. Like on the above play where Johnston beats press with a clever release but then curls back into the underneath trail coverage instead of trying to find space down the field knowing Herbert should be on the same page one he sees the shallow corner. Additionally, on the first play highlighted, Justin looked Quentin’s way, saw he was even wiht the cornerback but didn’t stay on him long enough for him to get open despite the pass protection holding up for a good enough timeframe. This happened several times throughout the day but one sign of growth was the fact Herbert chose to throw him the ball on that got-to-have-it final play down the sideline. Yes the outcome wasn’t what was required but the fact Herbert looked that way is a positive. The signs for why the Chargers took him in the first round are there to see, you just need to look beyond the statlines and beyond the broadcast tape because away from the ball he has shown some impressive flashes.
Overall I think he is about where a rookie receiver under this organization should be in terms of recent history. Many people labeled Mike Williams and Josh Palmer as busts at this exact point in their careers and it frankly wasn’t fair to do so for them and it is not fair to do it to Quentin Johnston either. His natural athletic skills and release technique are starting to show up and if the progression so far is anything to go by, I think there are great things to come for this young player. So be patient Chargers fans and analysts, give the rookie the time any young player deserves and then in time, we can see if he will turn into a player worthy of his draft pick.
And now, for today’s daily links:
History says Brandon Staley might get one more year as Chargers head coach (Bolt Beat)
Joey Bosa is officially heading to IR with OLB Andrew Farmer signed in a corresponding move (NFL.com)
Chargers place Tanner Muse on Injured Reserve and sign Blake Lynch to active roster (Chargers.com)
The differences between the offensive and defensive performances are really showing in the statistics for the season so far (Chargers Wire)
Tom Brady bemoans current quality of NFL play, says “there’s a lot of mediocrity” (ESPN)
Lions legend Barry Sanders finally explains why he decided to retire at the prime of his career (CBS NFL)
Sam Howell dons Clemson hoodie for press conference after losing a bet on his alma mater North Carolina (Sports Illustrated)