Two of the three receivers drafted by the Cardinals this year have athletic traits that dazzle.
Andy Isabella, the second-round pick, blazed a 4.31-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. Fourth-rounder Hakeem Butler also ran freakishly fast – 4.48 seconds –considering his 6-foot-5, 227-pound frame.
The Underwear Olympics were not as kind to sixth-round pick KeeSean Johnson, whose athletic profile tested in the 27th percentile of NFL receivers.
Maybe that lack of elite athleticism will curb his NFL potential, or maybe Johnson will overcome it like he did at Fresno State, where he set school records for career receptions (275) and receiving yards (3,463).
“There are all type of receivers,” said Johnson, whose production at Fresno State outpaced that of current Packers star wideout Davante Adams. “There are the fast ones, there are the technicians, and there are the ones that just know how to play the game of football and get open, period. The speed, it really doesn’t matter, as long as you have the play speed to move around and operate fast.”
Wide receivers coach David Raih was on the Coaches Chronicle podcast earlier this offseason and spoke glowingly of Johnson’s ability between the lines. The first thing that caught his eye was the smoothness in his game.
“You could put a glass of water on his head and he could run 80 yards without spilling a drop,” Raih said. “He’s like a motorcycle. It’s all one piece.”
Johnson only ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash at the combine but Raih brushed that off after seeing him run routes.
“The release, the stem, the top, he runs right through the football,” Raih said. “His play speed is incredibly fast.”
The outside skepticism is not new to Johnson. At Palo Alto High School in California, only three schools – Fresno State, San Jose State and Sacramento State -- offered him a scholarship.
He chose the Bulldogs and quickly proved he belonged. Johnson had 773 receiving yards as a sophomore and eclipsed 1,000 in each of his final two years, including 95 catches for 1,340 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior.
“Not being highly recruited, getting the offers late, that put the chip on my shoulder,” Johnson said. “And then getting to college and doing the things you did, having similar stats to high school, and then seeing what happened (in the draft). But I’m here, and I’m thankful for that. It’s just another step in the road for me, to keep working and make my way back to where my mindset is always going to be.”
Even though Johnson is only a rookie, there is playing time available at outside receiver if he can seize it. And at this point, he is happy to know the focus is on production, not measurables.
Johnson went from an overlooked recruit to a star at Fresno State, and hopes to follow that blueprint with the Cardinals.
“It’s starting all over again,” Johnson said. “This is the start of something new, and I’m ready to take the challenge on. I’ve never bowed down to anything.”
The top images from the Cardinals' on-field work in 2019