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
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.
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.
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.
Santa Barbara, CA
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Andrew Mueller, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in digital marketing in Chicago, Illinois.
Alex Heining is an Oregon alumni from the graduate class of 2021. After studying sports business and media studies, he has moved into the field of digital marketing as a copywriter and content manager in the Los Angeles area. Still, he loves his Ducks and goes to local high school games all over the Los Angeles and Orange County area to check out new recruits of the future (and a SoFi game or two with the pros). On any given Saturday, expect to find him doing martial arts, playing the guitar, or screaming at the tv over a missed holding penalty.
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