Tyler Johnson made a strategic decision to postpone running the 40-yard dash for NFL teams at the combine and instead wait for the Gophers’ pro day scheduled for March 25.
The COVID-19 pandemic scuttled those plans, forcing teams to evaluate Johnson almost strictly on how he performed in games. What a novel concept.
Draft previews knock Johnson’s top-end speed. Auburn’s defense probably doesn’t share that opinion after Johnson torched them repeatedly in the Outback Bowl.
Sometimes, the NFL pre-draft buildup becomes mind-numbing because every single aspect of a prospect gets picked apart. Information is vital in decisionmaking, of course, but the degree to which players get judged (and dinged) by their measurements often feels like a case of missing the forest for the trees.
Will more draft mistakes happen because teams aren’t able to gain extra insight into prospects? Seems likely, especially if there are medical questions. But teams also might avoid falling in love with a player by overvaluing his measurables. Or vice versa.
The coronavirus outbreak is turning the draft process into a throwback way of doing business. Trust your eyes. Judge a player by how he performed in games rather than obsess over how fast he runs a 40 in shorts.
How fast is Johnson? Fast enough to be his school’s all-time leading receiver in one of the two best conferences in college football. No stopwatch required.
Johnson’s teammate Carter Coughlin faces a different dilemma. He planned to have lunch, dinner and/or watch game tape with a group of linebacker coaches from various NFL teams at pro day as he transitions from defensive end back to his original position.
With pro day canceled, coaches won’t be able to put Coughlin through linebacker-specific drills to evaluate how he moves in space. Johnson won’t be able to run the 40. That’s a bummer for both since they spent the past three months training long hours with the goal of answering those questions.
“Yeah, it is a little upsetting,” Johnson said. “Putting in all that hard work throughout the past two months, three months and was very excited for the progress that I was making. I felt comfortable about what I was going to end up doing on pro day. But it’s out of my control.”
The guess here is that it won’t matter, not to a significant degree. Especially for Johnson. Teams already know that he’s not a speed-burner. They also have a large catalog of him performing at a high level. There are no surprises.
In facing four of the nation’s top 17 defenses in the final five games last season, Johnson posted 36 catches for 567 yards and five touchdowns. He was the best player on the field in the Outback Bowl, earning MVP honors. His speed certainly wasn’t an issue against that SEC defense.
Coughlin’s situation is more complicated because he is switching positions. He started his college career at linebacker, moved to defensive end and is now moving back to outside linebacker. NFL teams have told him that they envision him as a pass-rushing linebacker, but they wanted to watch him perform drills.
Coughlin has proved to be adaptable throughout his career, both in changing positions and adjusting to different schemes and philosophies after coaching changes. He also plays with nonstop effort. Many of his sacks came from chasing down a fleeing quarterback or refusing to give up on a play. And he’s an eternal optimist, always one to find positives in any situation. Even this one.
He’s staying-at-home with his family at their cabin Up North. He has a set of weights in the garage. And he’s FaceTiming with NFL coaches. He will be fine.
“From here on out, a lot of stuff is out of my control,” Coughlin said. “I can have conversations with teams, and I will do my best to let them know what kind of player they’re going to get. But it doesn’t make a lot of sense for me to get anxious about what’s going to happen, where it’s going to happen, because I can’t control any of that.”