The 2023 draft was described as barren of true standout receiving prospects, with each of the top-ranked receivers having significant questions to their potential as true WR1’s in the NFL.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba dominated college ball before an injury ended his 2022 season very early. He was criticized for having low top-end speed, but praised for his dominant route-running, topping-out as a young Keenan Allen.
Zay Flowers’ tape suggested a dominant route-runner as well with incredible playmaking ability. However, his 5’9” frame will be a hurdle to overcome at the next level, limiting his appeal as a team’s top receiving option.
Despite Jordan Addison’s incredible college production and route-running, he didn’t quite score high enough in speed and agility testing to counterbalance the concerns about his 5’11”, 171 pound frame.
Quentin Johnston was seen as the top receiving prospect by many pundits, and perhaps personified the general theme surrounding this receiving class the most. He boasted prototypical size and playmaking ability, but couldn’t squeeze into the 4.4’s during his combine 40-yard dash, and was tagged as a “body-catcher” by analysts. His hands were the biggest cause of concern, as many noted he wasn’t aggressive enough at the point of attack to benefit from the mismatch his size should create.
All four of these receivers were taken in rapid succession in the draft. Smith-Njigba was drafted at 20th overall, with Johnston, Flowers, and Addison selected sequentially afterwards. Comparisons amongst these four receivers will undoubtedly follow them throughout their careers. In the three drafts preceding this one, a respective six, three, and three receivers were selected before the 20th pick, making 2023 an outlier in early receiver selections.
After the first week of Chargers’ training camp, some analysts are ready to mic-drop on Johnston’s doubters as he continues to flaunt his talents. Specifically, it appears Johnston does in fact have hands.
Video: #Chargers rookie 1st round pick WR Quentin Johnston continues to make nice catches at Training Camp.— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) July 29, 2023
So much for "draft experts" saying he only catches with his body.. pic.twitter.com/1nNXVZq55j
Dov Kleiman kept the receipts Quentin’s pre-draft reports, and isn’t afraid to dunk on them early.
Naturally, this invites research into what analysts missed in their assessments of Johnston. Here are a couple observations from members of our own Bolts From The Blue community:
Funny how having a QB who throws a nice tight spiral vs a wounded duck makes a receiver look much better, huh?
I continue to maintain the QB play at TCU was part of QJ’s supposed issue. The catches I’ve seen from him via Herbert have done nothing to dissuade me of that take.
He had to come back on so many routes cuz those were floating. He’s probably happy to catch in stride
Looking back at some of Johnston’s highlights, it appears this was a fairly consistent theme. When Max Duggan hit Johnston in stride, he didn’t shy away from catching with his mitts.
Max Duggan to Quentin Johnston on a shallow screen for a touchdown. pic.twitter.com/DEQVnP56tQ— parker, crunching numbers (@statsowar) January 1, 2023
Here, the ball is perfectly high-pointed, and Johnston makes an aggressive contested catch... again, with his hands.
The TCU Horned Frogs have themselves an alpha at receiver in Quentin Johnston. He does such a great job as a route runner, quickly negating the hands of the DB in tight coverage. His 6-4, 212 build gives him a significant advantage in close quarters situations too. #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/HX53Cllyd1— Nick Price (checkmark) (@PriceCheck3) July 28, 2022
Here’s another clip with the ball thrown in front of Johnston, where he shows his ability to extend for a pass. He does trap it against his body, but that’s what you’re looking for in the modern NFL, where failing to secure the ball when going to the ground often results in an incompletion.
TCU @ Kansas - 2022— Davis Wilson (@Davis_Wilson41) January 9, 2023
I was at this game and it was incredible. The Max Duggan-Quentin Johnston connection came alive in this game as QJ caught for 206 yards and a TD while Duggan threw for 308 yards and 3 TDs. This clutch TD connection won TCU the game and moved the Frogs to 5-0. pic.twitter.com/xgMVWj7imj
Let’s look at some of these “body catches” that hurt Johnston’s draft stock.
Max Duggan ➡️ Quentin Johnston— 247Sports (@247Sports) October 23, 2022
TCU has now scored 21 unanswered to take the lead pic.twitter.com/F3jkLJhAPk
You can’t fault Johnston for a “body catch” when he’s underthrown by multiple strides and has to slam on the breaks to secure a catch. The ball was so underthrown on this play that Johnston had to drive half the way to the endzone in reverse.
Here is another highlight-worthy play where Duggan’s underthrown pass led to a slowed Johnston catching the ball against his chest.
Quentin Johnston making the most out of underthrown passes is a regular occurance in these highlight reels. Here is another, where Johnston is underthrown in traffic and he takes the pass for a touchdown.
The following compilation starts with an example of a Duggan throw hitting Johnston at center-mass instead of leading him, which Johnston secures against his chest but turns it into a chunk play with his YAC ability.
Quentin Johnston's a bundle of potential with lots to work on, but he's shown enough flashes to suggest he's more than just an athlete— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) March 30, 2023
Does a nice job finding space vs zone and attacking leverage vs off. Also gets into YAC mode instantly, showing a nasty spin move and stiff arm https://t.co/DzWK7e9ciE pic.twitter.com/p6Q693NImX
If Johnston had a quarterback that was maximizing his potential in college, it’s plausible his resume would elevated his stock closer to Mike Williams’ seventh overall selection in 2017, who shares very similar size and speed measurables.
Just throwing this out there...— Kyle DeDiminicantanio (@TheKyleDe) July 30, 2023
Quentin Johnston and Mike Williams have very, very similar measurables.
Johnston had Max Duggan throwing to him. He was selected 21st.
Mike Williams had Deshaun Watson. He was selected 7th.
There's a big "what if" to consider. pic.twitter.com/7b4BiqEefv
What do you think, Bolts From the Blue? How optimistic are we that Quentin Johnston will emerge as a true WR1, and gift us with years of highlights like this?