Why 2020 Is THE Breakout Year for Johnny Johnson III

Alex Heining Editorials 33 Comments

The Ducks need a star to emerge at wide-out in 2020.

The 2019 Oregon Ducks had a versatile and effective ground game complemented by a receiver-by-committee air attack. However, despite the passing attack being orchestrated by veteran signal caller Justin Herbert, no single receiver was able to eclipse 1000 yards or catch double-digit touchdowns. Although those receiving metrics aren’t necessarily synonymous with a good season, they do illuminate the lackluster performance of the Ducks’ passing attack. With Herbert now out of the picture, the Ducks will need a true number one receiver to emerge if they hope to find success against stingy defenses looking to pounce on quarterback Tyler Shough during his first year.

But do the Ducks have that kind of player on their roster, an emerging star capable of taking the next step and becoming the Ducks’ top wide-out?

Enter Johnny Johnson III.

Primed for the Spotlight


Johnny Johnson III needs to be THE GUY for the Ducks in 2020.

Early in the career of Johnson III there was substantial doubt over his (and the entire receiving corps’) ability to become a reliable contributor instead of a liability for the Ducks’ sluggish offense. After an off-season of dedicated practice with the jugs machine (highlighted here in Gabriel Ornel’s article on Johnson III vs Auburn), Johnson III improved greatly during his junior season, leading the team in receiving yards.

Johnson III is in prime position to elevate from a mid-tier contributor to a true number one wide-out in his final season as a Duck. With the NFL Draft only a year away, his resume could use the bump, and he could garner the spotlight as the centerpiece of a Ducks’ offense in 2020.

Mario Cristobal‘s offense has focused on (and at times completely depended on) the rushing attack. The Ducks under Cristobal have prioritized creating opportunities for lead back CJ Verdell and red zone threat Cyrus Habibi-Likio. With a proven veteran quarterback at the helm and the best O-line in the country, the 2019 Ducks had the personnel to fulfill Cristobal’s downhill vision.

Tom Corno

Habibi-Likio and Verdell were the focal points of the 2019 offense.

But now Shough, with minimal game experience, will likely step into Herbert’s shoes. This situation could either prove pivotal for the evolution of the Ducks’ passing game, pushing it into more experimental territory, or end up forcing Cristobal and Joe Moorhead to rely more heavily on Verdell and Habibi-Likio. Regardless of whether the offense ends up favoring the run game, Shough’s ability to get on the same page with Johnson III will be crucial to the cohesion and overall success of the offense.

Concerns for the 2020 Offense

Unfortunately, Shough’s lack of experience could be the least of the Ducks worries entering 2020. With COVID-19 being a present threat to the season, the time away from the field could contribute to a rocky start to the year, fueled by miscommunication. Of course, players’ health is at the forefront of our interests, but this virus will endanger any college football team’s effectiveness at the beginning of the season.

Without the consistency that Johnson III grew accustomed to with Herbert, and with little time for on-field practice in the coming months, there’s reason to doubt this new quarterback-receiver connection.

But we still have hope.

via Twitter

Johnny Johnson III celebrates a Rose Bowl victory.

The ability is all there. Johnson III can become an elite receiver in Joe Moorhead’s offense, and to do that, he and Shough need to build mutual trust. Johnson’s talent to make defenders miss after the catch and his vertical threat ability should mesh beautifully with Shough’s gunslinger attitude.

This is not to mention that Johnson III’s success will be crucial to the Ducks’ ability to recruit talented receivers in the future. Similarly to how Dillon Mitchell paved the way for the recent wave of wide-out talent the Ducks have pulled in, Johnson III could establish Oregon as a program that develops elite wide receivers for the NFL.

For the Ducks to excel in 2020, it’s essential that Johnson III be a consistent contributor and for him and Shough to be on the same page early in the season. We can, and probably should, expect some kinks in the beginning, but the development of Johnny Johnson III into an elite receiver is entirely possible and will have implications for the future of Ducks Football.

Alex Heining
Santa Barbara, CA
Top Photo From Twitter

Andrew Mueller, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in digital marketing in Chicago, Illinois.

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Michael Fischer

The layout as freshman in the Nebraska game was amazing


Welcome aboard Alex. Thanks for contributing to the site. You may be correct with your hypothesis, but for me it’s too early to tell with too many variables unknown. Who will be the leading six receivers for QB targets in 2020? Who is the QB, what is his style? Will JJ3 get 50 or more passes thrown to him? Will JJ3 begin the season healthy and stay that way? I really like JJ3 and appreciate his contributions last year, but would not declare 2020 to be his ‘breakout year”, but I’m truly hoping you are right. Go Ducks!


From what I read, the X receiver is the primary receiver in JoMo’s offense. That means Devon Williams is due for a big year. He’s an elite athletic talent at the position. The receiving core overall looks improved on paper from the last two seasons. Williams, Redd, JJ, Pittman, Addison and Delgado should be an outstanding group.

David Marsh

Pittman is the other reciever to watch… Pittman also spent quite a bit of time with the 2s last year and built up a relationship with Shough… Same goes for a good deal of the new offensive line.

Jon Joseph

Another tidbit: Larry Scott now believes that the season as currently scheduled, is in doubt. COVID cases in AZ and CA have significantly increased.


It’s taken Larry plenty of time to figure that out. Someone must have told him.


JJ III was Thomas Graham’s pick for hardest WR to guard two years ago, because he has some good twitch.

I’m surprised by Troy Franklin’s high rating. I watch his video and he has speed but really slow feet and no twitch in his breaks, like Brendan Schooler who was so smooth and telegraphing his breaks he could never get open except when an angle allowed his speed to be an advantage. But that’s for 2021 to worry about.

I am WAYYYY more confident in Moorehead putting the best players in to make the plays than that last guy, which is all I care about so pass the popcorn and let’s see how it all goes.


Interesting thought about “that last guy”. Which I tend to agree with you.

David Marsh

Scheme isn’t everything but a good scheme puts players in places to make the most of their abilities. JJ3 is not a speed demon burner but he has proven the ability to make plays.

Here’s looking forward to Moorhead scheming up some plays to get these recievers in space to make plays.

If you do not recognize the name, that is because Alex Heining is new to the site and will be writing on occasion, but even more important–he will be taking over the role as Editor-in-Chief gradually through July until the end of 2020. (Now let’s hope we have a season to have articles about!)

This was a great start and I wish to welcome him!

Hats off to Alex!

Jon Joseph

Thanks Alex, good read.

BTW – Here are the most recent ‘make the final 4’ odds out of Westgate:

1-3 – Clemson and Ohio State
6-5 – Bama
2-1 – UGA
3-1 – Florida
7-2 – OK
7-1 – A+M, Notre Dame, OREGON, Penn St, Texas
10-1 – Auburn, LSU

6 SEC teams have a better than 10-1 shot to make the playoff. 2-B1G/ 2-B12/ 1-ACC/ 1-Pac-12/ 1-IND.

1 school plays 12 games; no champ game.

7 play 8 conference games.

5 play 9 conference games.

But it is an road to the playoff, right?

BTW: USC is 15-1

If Oregon wants a repeat trip to the Rose Bowl, it looks like the Ducks will have to finish 2 or 3 in the final PO Committee poll. Thus, JJ et al, best be ready to play ball!

Santa Rosa Duck

Scratch Texas A&M, went on probation yesterday. Thanks Alex for your contribution. I wonder if there is any truth to the rumor that Clemson football has so many COVID 19 cases that they are intentionally creating herd immunity ahead of the season? I doubt that it is true but if it were true, it is probably a case of medical malpractice for Dabo.

Jon Joseph

Including a post-season appearance ban?

Jon Joseph

They are on a 1 year probation but the sanctions do not include missing the post-season in 2020. These were secondary, improper contact violations. Jimbo did receive a 6 MONTH show cause; big whoop.

Where is Fisher going in the next 6 months and what school would pay the guy more than he is making?

David Marsh

It is interesting to see how culture follows head coaches. We got the sense that when Jimbo was at FSU he was enabling bad behavior amount his players… Now we see a sort of continuation of playing outside the rules from him and his coaching staff.


Interesting observation David.


Great article, and I like your statement that JJ’s season could establish Oregon’s ability to develop elite talent to the NFL level at the receiver position, again. I also think if he doesn’t develop he will get run over by some kids who can develop into NFL talent. Also with the talent coming in next year they might run over the guys playing this year. In the end the Ducks will be developing NFL caliber talent at the receiver position, and now we have the coaching to get them there!


A well written article Alex, thanks. Hope to see more of them from you.

You mentioned that “Shough’s ability to get on the same page with Johnson III will be crucial to the cohesion and overall success of the offense” however I’m thinking that if Shough can’t get the job done here we do have other horses in the QB stable that can. That stable is loaded with egger talent biting at the bit to get a chance to see the field. Now whether Cristobal and Joe, would pull the trigger on that is another story.


I agree on all fronts, BDF. It’s a great article, thanks very much, Alex, and while it features, JJ lll & Shough, the plethora of possibilities for breakout stars at both QB and WR this season, is one that the Ducks haven’t enjoyed in a long time.

Alex highlights how JJ lll will be so important in his final paragraph; as a senior, he not only will be looked at to have a great season individually, but to provide leadership in the WR corps, and also play a crucial role, in the development of Shough, or one of the other quarterbacks, With the truncated practice time, and just general chaotic nature of the season, any way that communication and efficiency are enhanced will be more valuable than ever.


I agree 30Duck, JJ will shine for the Ducks this season. As for Shough I’m kind of worried because of the talk that there is a QB battle, which means to me that Shough is not an obvious stand out winner already. Like MM was or JH was when they came up in the system.

Jon Joseph

All I can promise is to come to camp and great shape and then to play to the best of my ability.

Thank you for the encouraging words and the support.

Jon Sousa

I’ll be rooting for you. What number will you be wearing?


Me thinks he will be wearing number 4….

David Marsh

Herbert took about six games to beat out Prukop in 2016. I think there will be a good quarterback battle though personally I think Shough will probably end up winning the job at some point in the season.

Jon Sousa

How can one guy be the obvious stand out winner already when the other guy has not even taken the field??? Shough was the obvious stand out winner at the end of the tiny spring practice.


Thats why the coaches get paid the big bucks. It’ part of their job to see which QB is performing best during practices. Then they have scrimmages to prove the point, and real games to solidify it. The real good ones get nick names like “Alfa Dog” or something to the equivalent to distinguish then from the others. A real good QB will separate himself from the others early on so by the time they get to playing real games he is already “Top Dog” without question.

I suspect you are right in that Shough will be the starting QB this season, but my question is by how much is he better.


I suspect Cristobal will want to keep it a competition for as long as he can so there is no let down. Iron sharpens iron.