"First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win." ~Mahatma Gandhi
Offers: Alabama, Arizona, Arizona State, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Tennessee, UCLA, USC, and Washington.
Scheme fit: I completely expect Johnson to be a tight end at the next level. Some could make a case for defensive end, but he lacks the quick twitch and long arms to be an ideal candidate there. As a tight end, Johnson brings a lot to the table, whether flexing out wide or fighting in the trenches. On some of those he might look like a fullback, and has the kind of body to be successful in that role.
Strengths: Very difficult to bring down with arm tackles to the hips and legs... Elusive and able to manufacture yards after catch... Can build up to a very nice straight-line speed, so he can threaten deep occasionally... Shows a lot of comfort as a route-runner, and has put in a lot of time at running back, as well... Good instincts on when and where to cut in traffic... Great strength and use of his hands, which manifests in a mean stiff-arm, among other things... Good balance to stay on his feet through attempted tackles... As a blocker, has a good combination of strength and girth to hold his own against bigger opponents... Overall, a great athlete for the tight end position with a lot of upside.
Weaknesses: Will have to pack on some more muscle... Lacks ideal arm length... Can struggle to engage in blocks with smaller, faster defenders.
Speed factor: 8 (?)
Johnson is a rare tight end prospect that you would want to use on jet sweeps - and, in fact, there's a number of jet sweep calls in the video above. That's because Johnson has some great speed if he can build up a head of steam, and he's hard to bring down by smaller, weaker perimeter defenders. Of course, he's not going to look as pretty doing a jet sweep as, say, Artavis Scott, but it's a misconception that only small guys are useful for a jet sweep. As long as a player has elusiveness, athleticism, and creativity, that's a good play. Plus, at some point you're going to get hit, and it's helpful to pack a punch when you do. Johnson offers all of those things.
In fact, it's an intriguing package that Johnson offers from the tight end position - the ability to motion along the line, take the ball as a fullback or lead block for a runner, and even release from the line and run a go route for a 30-yard gain or a touchdown. Johnson's change of direction is good enough for any other routes in the playbook, as well. He's both a weapon and an enforcer.
Unless you happen to be Rob Gronkowski, it's very, very hard to get media attention as a tight end. But it's a position that remains vital for Harbaugh's offense, and Tyler Johnson is the kind of versatile prospect who could thrive here. Currently, Johnson is Michigan's highest rated tight end target that is not already committed to a school. There is only one other tight end rated as highly in the 247Sports Composite that Harbaugh hasn't offered yet. In other words, there are very few options for Michigan better than landing the Gilbert, Arizona native.
On the flip side of that coin, it's worth noting that Michigan landed three tight ends in the 2016 class, so the cupboard is pretty well stocked regardless of what happens in 2017. Also, I wouldn't bet a penny against Jim Harbaugh and his staff being able to comb through film of every three-star tight end from Washington to Maine and find a prospect who's flying under the radar and worth a scholarship and a lot of praise. Still, we can tentatively set the bar for the 2017 class somewhere around Johnson's abilities. He's definitely one of the first options for Michigan's coaching staff.
And, to add some more spice to the race, there are a couple interesting teams competing with Michigan. The first is dear old Sparty, which has all three Crystal Balls for the moment in their favor. Another heavy hitter that is just entering the race for Tyler Johnson is Alabama, which offered him a scholarship last Sunday. Concerning Michigan State:
Johnson's father, Bill Johnson, was a standout defensive lineman for Michigan State, and also spent eight years in the NFL.
"He really hasn't leaned one way or another, other than that's where dad went," Wahlheim said.
All but one program, USC, are recruiting Johnson at tight end. The Trojans like him at defensive end.
At the moment Johnson, the 247Sports Composite's No. 5 tight end, has no visits scheduled for the spring or summer.
We'll see what Jim Harbaugh does here. If the coaches like the overall depth at tight end more than some of the upper echelon guys in this cycle, they could funnel their energy into chasing elite prospects at other positions. Or, maybe that isn't giving Harbaugh's work ethic enough credit. 2017 could mirror 2016, where Harbaugh struck out early (Naseir Upshur) and late (Isaac Nauta) but still landed, arguably, the best tight end class in the country because he was simply too damn tenacious to be denied.
Also worth noting, Harbaugh hasn't had many head-to-head battles with the Buckeyes or Spartans yet, preferring to cast a wide net around the country to build momentum. Eventually, though, a tooth-and-nail recruiting battle is going to happen between Michigan and one of its rivals - and it just might be between UM and MSU for Johnson, who will be an interesting guy to keep an eye on as this cycle unfolds.