A new year provides everyone an opening to clean the slate, reinvent themselves and accomplish new goals.
The first day of 2020 provided Minnesota’s Tyler Johnson a different opportunity: a New Year’s Day Bowl game against an SEC secondary and the ultimate final in-game audition before entering the NFL Draft.
It was an opportunity the senior wide receiver took full advantage of.
Johnson finished the day with 12 catches for 204 yards and two touchdowns, including hauling in a circus back-of-the-end zone grab while somehow getting a foot inbounds in the final minute of the first half to put the Gophers ahead at the break.
Not only was the TD catch SportsCenter Top-10 worthy, but it was the 32nd of Johnson’s career and gave him the school record for career receiving touchdowns, passing Gopher great Ron Johnson.
The North Minneapolis native was not done impressing the scouts in attendance just yet, as Johnson continued to torch Auburn’s secondary, creating separation off the line of scrimmage with his superior speed and route-running ability time and time again.
Quarterback Tanner Morgan found Johnson down the seam for a 73-yard touchdown strike in the fourth quarter, giving Minnesota a 31-24 lead, one they never relinquished en route to an Outback Bowl win and the program’s winningest season in more than a century.
Johnson’s performance earned him the Outback Bowl MVP.
“He’s going to leave here the greatest receiver in the history of the University of Minnesota,” said head coach P.J. Fleck after the win. “We’re all really proud of him for what he’s brought to our university.”
Along with TD reception record, Johnson finished his career with the most receiving yards in school history and just 14 catches shy of Eric Decker for most career receptions by a Gopher.
So, what does the future hold?
Depending on who you ask, mock drafts currently have Johnson going anywhere from the second to the fifth round. It’s hard to believe this performance, against what many consider to be one of the best defenses in the country, couldn’t potentially solidify a second- or third-round grade, or even catapult him into the first, especially for a team in need of an elite wideout in the draft.
“I’m a hard worker, I love my community and I just love doing what I do,” said Johnson on what he wants NFL general managers to know about him. “I’m just thankful for every opportunity I get.”
The NFL is all about taking advantage of the opportunities you’re given, and if his final college game is any indication, Johnson has the skills and the mindset to capitalize on any opening he receives at the next level.
“People say ‘big time players make big time plays in big time games’…every GM, every president, and every owner is going to watch THAT game,” said Fleck of Johnson’s Outback Bowl performance. “He’s going to be an asset to any program.”