The rookie wideout has work to do, and plenty of opportunity to do it.
The Cowboys are certainly no stranger to undrafted players becoming stars for them, with Tony Romo and Miles Austin being just a couple who come to mind. As such, it’s not so much a question of if someone will make the final roster as an undrafted rookie, but who? Throughout much of OTA’s and training camp, wide receiver Jon’Vea Johnson of Toledo looked to a lead candidate.
Everyone knows that the top three receivers - Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Randall Cobb - are the starters, but after that it’s a bit of a free for all. Allen Hurns’ release last month only reasserted that notion. Johnson’s top end speed and smooth route running helped earn him praise heading into the Cowboys’ preseason opener in San Francisco.
Due to that, Johnson saw plenty of opportunity in the game. Playing for a lengthy portion, he saw the most passes thrown his way of any player in the game on either team with eight. The problem? He only caught three passes. There were times in that game where he created separation and had the ball hit him in the hands, but he just couldn’t hold on to it.
It’s possible that Johnson was rattled by the pressure of playing in his first NFL game (even if it was preseason), but he’ll need to prove to the coaches that he can overcome the dropsies if he wants to get his momentum back.
The good thing for Johnson is that he’ll be given every opportunity to do just that. With Cooper still sitting out and Cobb likely to get plenty of rest again, Gallup could be the only starter to play against the Los Angeles Rams in Hawaii. Last week, Cedrick Wilson received a lot of attention but an injury might sideline him as well. So Johnson will likely be competing with Devin Smith, Tavon Austin, Jalen Guyton, and Reggie Davis for the lion’s share of targets.
With Johnson’s natural athletic ability and route running skills, he’ll continue to create separation and get open, which is a great way to get the ball thrown to you often. It’s one of his biggest strengths, and something wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal values greatly. But if Johnson can’t catch the ball, then getting open doesn’t really mean much at the end of the day.
Look for Johnson to see a lot of action on Saturday against the Rams, and if he can redeem himself and showcase soft, reliable hands then the undrafted rookie can take a big step towards making this team. If not, then he might find himself on the outside looking in.