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What the New York Giants Are Getting in Penn State Tight End Theo Johnson

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The voice of Penn State’s locker room stood up last November and gave the postgame speech that his head coach normally delivers. This time, tight end Theo Johnson gave it about Penn State coach James Franklin.

“After every game, coach Franklin always tell us how much he loves and appreciates us, and I feel like sometimes he doesn’t get that in return and we don’t express that to him,” Johnson said after the Nittany Lions’ win over Rutgers. “And I just wanted to tell him how much we love and appreciate him, just because he gave everyone in that room a chance and an opportunity. For some guys, he saved their life.”

Johnson, whom the New York Giants drafted in the fourth round of the 2024 NFL Draft, brings a big voice and bigger game to the franchise. The tight end finished second on the roster in catches (32) and yards (325) and made six touchdown receptions. An honorable mention All-Big Ten pick, Johnson finished third on Penn State’s career list for touchdown receptions among tight ends (11).

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Johnson, the 107th overall pick, played in an offense that valued tight ends, deploying them in the run game (Johnson blocked out of the backfield) and relying on them downfield. Johnson might have been Penn State’s most dependable pass-catcher last season. His experience in such an offense made Johnson a versatile prospect.

“At Penn State, I appreciated the opportunity I had. I was able to showcase all that tight end can do,” Johnson said. “… That was a unique experience for me, because I’m able to show NFL teams that I’m able to lineup up anywhere on the field.”

After the Peach Bowl, Johnson embarked on a series of draft-prep stops that launched his professional career. Johnson was among the stars at the Senior Bowl stars and then broke the NFL Scouting Combine. According to RAS, which determines the relative athletic scores for combine participants, Johnson scored a 9.99 (out of a possible 10) in the combine drills. The score was the second-highest among tight ends over the past 37 years. The RAS scored rated Johnson as “elite” in speed and explosion and “great” in size and agility measurements.

Johnson was exceptional in every way in Indianapolis. He ran the second-fastest time in the 40-yard dash among tight ends (4.57 seconds), tying for the fastest 10-second split (10.55). He finished second in the broad jump (10-5) and vertical jump (39-5). Johnson also ran the fastest shuttle time
(4.19) among tight ends and was fifth in the three-cone drill (7.15 seconds).

“I feel like I capitalized on the process,” Johnson said. “… People said I don’t move as well for my size, and I want to show everybody I’m fluid in my routes and I move around a lot different than a typical 6-6, 250-pound man.”

Johnson was the third-ranked tight end of the 2024 draft class, according to he Athletic’s Dane Brugler, who cited his “ideal size/speed measurements for the position.” Johnson also continued a particularly strong draft stretch for Penn State tight ends. He’s the fourth to be drafted since 2018, and all were selected in the fourth round or higher. That’s a primary reason Johnson chose Penn State out of Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

“A big part of why I came to Penn State is the lineage of tight ends who came through here,” Johnson said. “As soon as I walked in the door, I wanted to leave my own mark on it. I feel like I’ve done that.”

Moreover, the Giants are getting a leader in Johnson.

“He’s an extremely powerful leader,” Penn State center Hunter Nourzad said. “He’s very vocal. And he’s very passionate about football, and that feels very genuine.”

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AllPennState is the place for Penn State news, opinion and perspective on the SI.com network. Publisher Mark Wogenrich has covered Penn State for more than 20 years, tracking three coaching staffs, three Big Ten titles and a catalog of great stories. Follow him on Twitter @MarkWogenrich.

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