Gabriel: The 2019 NFL draft WR who will surprise you

 
By Greg Gabriel
profootballweekly.com
Updated 7/9/2018 9:35 PM
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  • Buffalo wide receiver Anthony Johnson during an NCAA college football game against Minnesota, Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, in Minneapolis.

    Buffalo wide receiver Anthony Johnson during an NCAA college football game against Minnesota, Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, in Minneapolis. Associated Press File Photo/Aug. 2017

It seems like every year a player comes out of nowhere to be recognized as one of the best at his position across the country. At wide receiver, the top national names for the 2019 NFL draft include: junior A.J. Brown from Ole Miss who is big, strong, fast and productive; senior Stanley Morgan from Nebraska, who had a big season last year; senior Davis Sills from West Virginia; and senior Deebo Samuel from South Carolina.

One athlete from a lower level of competition who is easily as talented as those players is senior Anthony Johnson from the University of Buffalo. Johnson is a former junior-college transfer who redshirted his first season at UB, then came on strong in 2017 to become one of the better wide receivers in the country.

In 2017, Buffalo had injury problems at quarterback with three players starting games there. But that didn't prevent Johnson from putting up huge numbers -- he finished the season with 76 receptions for 1,356 yards and 14 touchdowns.

In his final three games against Bowling Green, Ball State and Ohio, Johnson caught 21 passes for 468 yards (22.3-yard average) and 8 touchdowns.

Yes, he is a big-play performer.

Johnson has ideal NFL wide receiver size at about 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds. He isn't a "burner," but he is easily fast enough. I would estimate his 40-yard dash speed to be in the range of 4.47 to 4.50 seconds. Johnson is very long and has outstanding play strength to block and break tackles after the catch.

In the Buffalo offense he almost always plays outside, and with his size and strength he easily gets off press coverage. While his route tree in their spread offense is limited, he does a great job getting open against man and zone coverage.

Johnson is a very good athlete with body control and a burst, and he gets in and out of cuts to gain separation on a consistent basis. He consistently snatches the ball and shows the ability to adjust very well to the ball in the air and make the difficult catch with his long arms and big hands. After the catch, he is like a running back with his run instincts and strength.

Johnson has caught the eye of NFL scouts. Former Senior Bowl director Phil Savage took a trip to Buffalo last April to watch Johnson in spring practice. Although Savage no longer runs the Senior Bowl, it is still a lock that Johnson will be performing for scores of NFL people at that annual January all-star game.

With wide receiver clearly a stopwatch-driven position, how high Johnson goes in the next draft will be determined by how fast he runs at the NFL Scouting Combine. If he runs in the 4.4s, he has a strong chance of being one of the first wide receivers drafted next year.

He is that good.

Regardless, he will be an eventual starter in the NFL, as tall receivers with play speed and a large receiving radius are always in high demand by NFL coaches and scouts.

• For more on the NFL, visit profootballweekly.com and follow on Twitter @PFWeekly or @greggabe.

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