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Film breakdown: What TE Theo Johnson could bring to the Giants

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The New York Giants selected Penn State tight end Theo Johnson in the fourth round at Pick 107 on the 2024 NFL Draft. Johnson will join a tight-end room that includes Daniel Bellinger, Chris Manhertz, Jack Stoll, possibly Darren Waller, and Lawrence Cager.

Few players had a better pre-draft process than Theo Johnson, who was a standout at the Reese’s Senior Bowl and dominated the NFL Scouting Combine.

Johnson didn’t produce to his tantalizing athletic traits in college, but much of that wasn’t Johnson’s fault. Penn State didn’t showcase Johnson’s skills, and the offense struggled much of the season. He never had more than 350 receiving yards in a college season.

He finished his college career with 77 catches on 100 targets, 938 yards, 12 touchdowns, and six drops. Here is my evaluation of Johnson from January:

Strengths

  • Good combination of size and speed
  • Quick release off the LOS – super quick feet
  • Great juke move, agile, very smooth player
  • Very good change of direction
  • Explosive athlete with separation skills/acceleration
  • Deceptive stemmer – manipulator!
  • Leans, stick & nod, explosive
  • Body control, crafty route runner
  • Understands leverage and how to manipulate it through routes vs. man & zone
  • Hands vs. Press (Q4 2:03, third-and-7 v. Michigan; Indiana, Q3 8:44 second-and-8, TD up seam)
  • Great awareness as route runner on vertical
  • Soft hands – extends away from his frame, an effortless catcher
  • Very good concentration when high pointing the football
  • Natural ball skills, gets up field quickly for YAC
  • Does well to protect football into contact, falls forward
  • TE screens & PA Slide weapon (ways he was used by Penn State)
  • Big bodied red zone threat
  • Functional blocker who can play on all three downs
  • Tight hands and active feet in the blocking phase – annoying
  • Can dip low into contact on angled blocks, good angles of pursuit
  • Flexible to get low and drive through opponents
  • Good job blocking on the move
  • Versatile – can play Y, H, and with potential to operate as Fullback in certain offenses
  • Elite competitive toughness

Weaknesses

  • Has good play speed, but doesn’t play to his elite athletic testing
  • Falls forward through contact but doesn’t have play strength to break tackles consistently
  • Functional blocker, but with modest overall play strength at the point of attack, albeit he flashes very good play strength with proper technique
  • Wasn’t very productive in college
  • Is already 23 years old
  • Was charged with a couple of misdemeanors at a fraternity house in college – some vetting could be necessary

Synopsis

Johnson has an excellent blend of size and speed for an NFL tight end. He has a ton of potential but not much college production to substantiate his talent. He can play in any system and is a functional blocker that is technically sound, albeit not dominating. He has solid overall play strength, but he must utilize proper technique/positioning to control the point of attack long enough to be a successful blocker at the NFL level. Still, he can lose slowly enough to be serviceable as currently constructed.

His ability to run routes deceptively and disguise his breaks will lead to more separation. That, coupled with his natural hands and ability to extend away from his frame, should provide wider throwing windows for quarterbacks at the next level. Johnson should be productive early in his career and can carve out a role on any offense.

Fit with the Giants

Joe Schoen stated that Johnson was the number one player on their board, and they were interested in him when they saw he was not selected on Day 2. It’s unclear if the Giants will keep four tight ends on their roster, but they at least have options.

Bellinger, Johnson, Manhertz, and Stoll are all capable blockers, and are all more effective as blockers than the two tight ends who weren’t named Bellinger on last year’s roster.

Johnson may not hit the ground running with Stoll and Manhertz in the building, but I would expect to see him used in certain 12 personnel packages with Bellinger for play-action purposes. He will be the TE Leak player and the seam runner and likely be used on play-action slides. He’s also capable as a BIG SLOT (38% slot rate in 2023).

If Waller retires, Bellinger is the number one tight end, but Johnson will earn snaps, along with Stoll or Manhertz. I’m very pleased the Giants found tight ends who can block, and I’m excited to see what the Giants receive from this 23-year-old rookie.

The film

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