South Dakota State didn’t play in 2020 due to Covid-19, however, that did not stop Cade Johnson from improving his draft stock as he was able to participate in the 2021 Senior Bowl. Johnson played in FCS, which has a substandard level of competition. He didn’t dominate athletically which raises concerns about Johnson’s transition to the NFL. Nevertheless, the technical aspects of his game are well-rounded and will give him a shot to get on an NFL field. Immediately when you see Johnson’s tape, what you see is a guy who is extremely quick and has reliable hands. During the Senior Bowl, he showed the ability to compete and dominant better competition and did it consistently throughout the week.
Make sure to check out all of our other 2021 NFL Draft Scouting Reports.
Name: Cade Johnson
Position: Wide Receiver
School: South Dakota State
Class: Redshirt Senior
Weight: 184 lbs
Johnson isn’t fast in a straight line but does have exception acceleration which he uses to throw off cornerbacks during his routes. He’s able to maintain his speed during speed cuts. Didn’t get slowed down with contact during the Senior Bowl, but this will be a significant indicator whether he can make the full transition to the NFL.
There is no sugarcoating it, Johnson isn’t big and you’re not getting threatening vertical speed. What you are getting is an agile player who understands that’s how he’s going to win. The suddenness and craftiness are apparent on most routes and are what gives him separation.
Route Running/Separation (9/10)
When you watch most South Dakota State games, you see Johnson get maybe three or four yards of separation through the subtle use of head movements, hip breakdown, and controlling his speed/acceleration for his breaks. This is an extremely crafty player who finds ways to get open and that shouldn’t change in the NFL.
Johnson has limited size making his catching radius smaller than most other receivers. It isn’t a problem on accurately thrown passes, however, on poorly thrown passes, there is a lower margin of error. However, Johnson does have reliable hands and can be a viable third-down receiver who can make the clutch catch. Johnson showed extremely good technique when catching the ball and his calling card in the NFL will be a sure-handed receiver.
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Run after Catch (6.5/10)
Will win with suddenness and quickness to beat out a defender but there should be some concerns over the difference in strength between FCS defenders and those in the NFL. He should be able to make one guy miss on short to intermediate routes.
Contested Catch (8.5/10)
There was a smaller sample size of contested catches as Johnson appeared to have lots of separation while at South Dakota State. During the Senior Bowl practice, his film convinced me that Johnson isn’t dropping a football when it is in his hands. he has extremely strong hands and great hand-eye coordination to look the football in.
Body Control (7.75/10)
Another interesting evaluation, but during the Senior Bowl (2021) and Northern Iowa film (2019), Johnson showed spatial awareness and good control over his body including when he shields the catch from the cornerback. It looks as though he understands that he might not be the biggest, but he can still use his body effectively. He puts himself in a position to make a play on the ball regularly.
Nice grab by South Dakota State WR Cade Johnson. #SeniorBowl pic.twitter.com/wuk1DNWaoV
— Christian Page (@_ChristianPage) January 27, 2021
An interesting dynamic here, as Johnson will most likely be a slot-only player in the NFL, but he has shown the quickness to beat press in the FCS; although there were very few reps. Johnson also showed in the Senior Bowl that he can beat press against better cornerbacks. Overall, Johnson made himself some money and showed he can beat the press if he needs to. He’ll win with suddenness, craftiness, and recognition of defensive backs movements.
This is an extremely savvy and intelligent route runner, who you can see is thinking of where space will be during the pre-snap, and he can make quick decisions while running. Spatial awareness is exceptional, has some routes reminiscent of Wes Welker.
Johnson has fluid movement skills which are apparent in cutting and speed outs routes. Fluid movements which don’t waste effort on meaningless steps. Overall efficient agility is what is going to make Johnson a winner in the NFL.
Toughness comes to mind where he took some big hits while returning kicks. No major injuries were documented throughout his college career.
Showed decent form, however often overextended arms and didn’t get into the right position to make blocks.
Johnson offers some intriguing talent as a slot receiver. He has the catching technique and skills to be a reliable high-target volume player. The suddenness and craftiness however are what separates him from other receivers and what will allow him to cut out a role on an offense. While the size and limited speed will limit his initial chances in the NFL, Johnson will get on the field and convert a few third down plays with his reliable hands. Once Johnson gets his NFL chance, there is little doubt he’ll give it up.
Final Grade (78.5/100): Late Day Two
Player Comp: Keke Coutee (with better hands)
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