Courtney: What are the Ducks getting in Stephon Johnson?

The three-star receiver separates from defenders in his routes, making him a home run threat

Posted on April 1, 2021

Chris Courtney
  By Chris Courtney of WFOD for SportsPac12

As the month of March draws to a close, Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal and the Ducks only seem to be heating up on the recruiting trail before the official start of spring football on Thursday.

With commitments from JUCO offensive lineman Percy Lewis, and a pair of four-star prospects in Tanner Bailey and Trejon Williams this past month, the Ducks added a fourth commitment in the month of March with Wednesday’s announcement from Lancaster (Texas) three-star wide receiver Stephon Johnson.

Johnson

Ranked as the nation’s 65th-best receiver according to 247Sports’ Composite Rankings, Johnson is the first wideout and second Texan (combining with four-star prospect Landon Hullaby, another Dallas-area native) to verbally commit to Oregon’s 2022 recruiting class. Johnson is also the first three-star rated prospect to pledge to the Ducks’ 2022 class, which features a grand total of eight commitments as of this article’s publication.

With 14 total offers to date, Johnson chose Oregon over overtures from programs such as Arizona State, USC, and Arkansas. His commitment currently gives the Ducks the top-ranked class in the Pac-12 and 11th-best recruiting class in the nation for the 2022 cycle, per 247Sports’ Composite Team Rankings.

Below I take a closer look at Johnson’s game, examining his weaknesses and strengths, as well as projecting how he may make an impact for the Ducks when he ultimately arrives on campus.

Notable Weaknesses

• Lacks ideal positional size and strength: Checking in at an even 6-feet and 175 pounds, Johnson doesn’t necessarily possess the kind of ideal physical attributes you dream up for a wide receiver. This won’t preclude him from future success by any means, but dings and tweaks can have a lingering effect on more slightly built players such as Johnson. Adding quality functional strength and bulk will be a focus as he transitions to college.

• Questions about ability as a blocker: Somewhat related to Johnson’s lithe build is his ability to be a quality blocker. Though he showcases toughness on film, there aren’t many examples of him performing duties as a perimeter blocker. If he can prove that he can hold up in this regard, he’ll become that much more difficult to take off the field.

Notable Strengths

• Great speed and elusiveness after the catch: Johnson certainly provides a jolt of electricity when the ball is in his hands. Blessed with great speed and change of direction ability, Johnson is a bona fide big play threat who can impact the short, intermediate, and deep passing game to equal degrees. This is perhaps his most notable skill.

• Can separate: Speed and quickness are great attributes to have if you’re a wide receiver, but if applied incorrectly, they don’t amount to much consistently. Fortunately for Johnson, he demonstrates an understanding of how to effectively use these god-given abilities. He’s a clean route-runner for a high school prospect who can effectively separate from defenders at the top of his route, making him the home run threat that he is.

• Demonstrates toughness, ability to make contested catches: Though he may not be the biggest guy, Johnson is a player who plays with great toughness and concentration. This shines through in his ability to make difficult catches in traffic or when matched up with a defender that’s providing quality coverage.

Overall Outlook

Johnson’s commitment may have caught most Duck fans off guard, but his addition to Oregon’s 2022 recruiting class shouldn’t be panned as a result of his relatively modest recruiting ranking and the fan base’s general unfamiliarity with him as a prospect.

From my perspective, the film tells a much more compelling story, and in Johnson’s case, the Ducks have prospectively added a player who should provide dynamic playmaking ability to a group that has seemingly prioritized big-bodied pass catchers in recent cycles.

The addition of Johnson also sends a strong signal that the Ducks look to have a major presence in the state of Texas during the 2022 recruiting cycle, and perhaps beyond. Certainly some of Oregon’s recent activity in the state can be attributed to the fact that high school football was played in Texas this past year, thus the evaluation of these players is relatively similar to what it would have been during a non-COVID year.

Cristobal

However, the number of offers issued and the number of verbal commitments the Ducks have received in recent cycles has slowly but surely trended upwards, and Johnson’s commitment Wednesday is proof that Mario Cristobal’s efforts in the Lone Star State are paying dividends.

How Johnson may impact this team upon arriving in Eugene feels a bit murky at the moment. Oregon is guaranteed to lose Johnny Johnson and Jaylon Redd at the end of the 2021 season, but playing time could be more or less attainable depending on potential transfers from the program or decisions to turn pro early.

With the skill-set to play either in the slot or the “Z” receiver position in offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead’s scheme, Johnson offers some flexibility, depending on what the receiver room looks like in 2022. Additionally, don’t rule out Johnson having an early impact on special teams, as he has the skills to excel as a difference-maker in the return game.

This story also appears at wholeflockofducks.com and is syndicated with permission. Follow WFOD on Twitter @_WFOD and Chris Courtney @csquared02.




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