2023 NFL Draft

2023 NFL Draft Player Profiles: East Carolina WR C.J. Johnson

From now until the 2023 NFL Draft takes place, we will scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top-10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents Today, we’ll be profiling ECU WR C.J. Johnson.

#5 C.J. Johnson, WR, East Carolina (Sr.) — 6014, 224



Player Ht/Wt Hand Size Arm Length Wingspan
CJ Johnson 6014/224 10 1/4″ 32″ N/A
40-Yard Dash 10-Yard Dash Short Shuttle 3-Cone
Broad Jump Vertical Bench Press

The Good

— Perfect body to use as a big slot, burly upper half and thick lower half to withstand hits over the middle
— Understands how to box out and create space at the catch point
— Is a load for defensive backs to bring down after the catch
— Sticky hands, only four drops in his final two seasons, per PFF
— Has good body control to go up and get passes at odd angles and tiptoe the sideline
— Understands where to sit down in the zones and when to run to green grass
— Points out blitzes and knows when he’s hot
— Plays with an alpha mentality, the ball is his when it’s in the air and he’ll let you know about it after
— Can use his strength to control and overpower DBs blocking in the run game

The Bad

— Overall play speed is concerning at the NFL level
— Rarely creates separation with his route running
— No burst off the line of scrimmage, looks like he’s jogging most routes
— Isn’t sudden in and out of breaks
— Can be late to get his head around after breaks with late hands and eyes preparation
— Blocking effort is inconsistent
— Needs to improve his conditioning, consistently was subbed out on longer drives
— Suspended indefinitely by ECU Head Coach in February 2022 for “not living up to the standards set for the program”
— Held out of field workout at NFL Combine due to an Achilles injury


— 175 catches, 2,849 receiving yards, 16.3 avg., and 21 touchdowns in 43 career games
— 2022 second-team All-AAC
— 2019 Freshman All-America by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA)
— Tied the ECU and AAC single-game record for touchdown receptions vs. USF in 2022 (4)
— Broke the freshman school record with 908 receiving yards in 2019
— 3-star prospect out of D.H. Conley HS in Greenville, NC
— Went to high school with ECU starting QB Holton Ahlers
— Reported to camp in 2020 at 236 pounds, trimmed back down to the 220s
— Chose ECU over Duke, NC State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest
— Former ECU WRs Dwayne Harris and Justin Hardy were his favorite football players growing up
— Communications Major

Tape Breakdown

C.J. Johnson is a possession receiver who had a standout 2022 season as the big slot player for the East Carolina Pirates, amassing over 1,000 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns, both personal bests. With an extensive career spanning 43 games, Johnson is an experienced player who hit the ground running, breaking the ECU freshman receiving record with over 900 yards in 2019. While he experienced a dip in production during his sophomore and junior campaigns, he ultimately thrived when moved into the slot role for his senior season.

Let’s take a look at what he offers.

While Johnson’s route running skills may not always result in him creating significant separation, he compensates for this with his impressive physical attributes. His sturdy 224-pound frame enables him to create separation at the catch point and effectively shrug off cornerbacks who attempt to disrupt passes by maneuvering around his body. As a result, Johnson is a reliable target who can be counted on to come down with the ball in contested situations.

While it is true that Johnson’s ability to create separation may be a weakness, he more than makes up for it with his exceptional ability to win contested-catch situations.

Also, Johnson’s hands are incredibly reliable with only four drops recorded over his final two seasons, per PFF.

How the East Carolina Pirates deployed their slots was somewhat limited, featuring primarily slot fades, benders, and short speed outs. Consequently, Johnson had relatively few opportunities to showcase his route-running abilities. However, upon revisiting his freshman tape, when he primarily played X-receiver, I was able to see better displays of his route-running capabilities.

Johnson understands how to use leverage to deceive cornerbacks into opening their shoulders in one direction before quickly exploding in the opposite direction to gain separation.

Johnson also brings intensity to the game. He’s built like a running back and is an absolute load for defensive backs to bring down in the open field.

His power and contact balance consistently allow him to create yards after the catch on short passes.

It didn’t hurt that Johnson was playing with his high school quarterback at ECU, but regardless of the chemistry, he showed the ability to find green grass and make himself available in scramble-drill situations.

Johnson’s experience shines through when he’s reading defenses pre- and post-snap. You’ll see him pointing out potential blitzes and is on it when he’s a “hot” receiver.

He also understands zones and will sit in holes when he finds them. Here’s an example against USF where he immediately sees the cover-2 hole and sits in it for his QB to hit him before the 2-high safety comes downhill. He’s also able to show off his impressive body control on the catch, getting two feet in bounds.

While there are certainly some intriguing traits to Johnson’s game there’s also a lot to pick apart.

The first is his overall play speed. There were far too many reps on tape where it legitimately looks like Johnson is jogging and he has next to no acceleration off the line of scrimmage.

On top of this jogging approach, Johnson would consistently have to be subbed out on long drives for a breather.

On top of the poor play speed, he doesn’t run his routes with any type of precision or snappiness. Watch the curl route below. You can see Johnson begin to power down about five yards before he actually makes his break, and it still takes him too many steps to snap back to the ball.

For full context, this play is against a cover-2 look to his side of the field so it’s not as big of a deal. But it’s a good example of the lackadaisical nature of his route running.

Building off that same point, there were times when the slow route-running carried over to Johnson having late hands and eyes preparation. This isn’t a great ball, but Johnson has more than enough time to react to it. The moseying around can carry over to other parts of his game.

Let’s now examine Johnson’s ability as a blocker, a crucial skill for slot receivers who are often more involved in the run game than their counterparts on the outside.

Johnson’s size and play strength give him an advantage in this area, as he is more than capable of dominating defensive backs on the outside.

It’s worth noting that his effort blocking can vary from play to play or even throughout a game. Despite this, Johnson’s potential as a blocker remains a significant asset to his overall game.


C.J. Johnson is a physically imposing player with reliable hands, excelling in contested-catch situations. He possesses an ideal body for the big slot position, boasting a burly upper half and thick lower half that allows him to absorb hits and make it challenging for defensive backs to tackle him. His impressive physical attributes help him create space at the catch point, and his consistent hands make him a dependable target. However, his play speed and ability to create separation through route running are areas of concern at the NFL level. Johnson would benefit greatly from receiving NFL coaching that focuses on developing consistency and maintaining a high level of intensity throughout games, enabling him to become a more well-rounded player.

Johnson’s potential as an NFL receiver is limited by his lack of play speed and ability to separate from defenders. While he possesses the physicality and strength of a move tight end, he is unlikely to be used in that role. As a receiver, he shares similarities with Connor Heyward — a big-bodied, below-average athlete who excels at making tough, contested catches and can be a challenge for defenders to bring down after the catch. Due to Johnson’s unique attributes, he could stick to a roster, but it is hard to project him as ever being a medium-to-high volume guy in the NFL.

Johnson’s draft stock is not secure due to his inability to alleviate play-speed concerns through pre-draft testing, wavering effort on tape, and previous character issues resulting in suspension in the spring of 2022. These factors may lead to him going undrafted. While the Steelers could potentially use a big slot receiver, they should consider other options in the draft. Johnson may be worth a look as a seventh-round pick but his limitations as a receiver may hinder his ability to make a significant impact at the NFL level.

Projection: Day 3

Depot Draft Grade: 6.3  – End of Roster/ Practice Squad (6-7th Round)

Games Watched: Navy (2022), Cincinnati (2019), NC State (2022), Coastal Carolina (2022), USF (2022)

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