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Tennessee Football: Brandon Johnson’s last stand

A once promising receiver has one more year to rediscover the fire.

Chattanooga v Tennessee Photo by Silas Walker/Getty Images

We conclude our Bust Watch 2020 series with a look at a redshirt senior receiver with one more year left to prove what he can do. Tennessee football has plans to rise to the top of the sport, but it won’t do so if veterans like Brandon Johnson aren’t performing up to standards they set.

We first examined the highly touted player with a dramatic recruiting plotline in linebacker J.J. Peterson. We then looked at defensive lineman Savion Williams and his 2019 season that ended a lot worse than it started. Finally, we look at wide receiver Brandon Johnson and what will be his final chance to recapture some of the spark he had two years ago.

WR Brandon Johnson

Admittedly, it was difficult to put Johnson on the list. When he came to Tennessee, he was a mid-ranked 3-star who wasn’t projected to be a top receiver in college. Johnson had good size and enough speed to be a real contributor, but expectations weren’t crazy. So putting him on a list as a potential “Bust” is pushing the category a little bit.

Oddly enough, his success may have actually brought him onto this list. Johnson’s 2017 sophomore season has been forgotten for a variety of reasons—mainly the fact that the team was simply terrible—but it was a promising year for him, all things considered. Johnson led the team with 37 receptions and 482 yards, and looked like he actually belonged on the field. It seemed like he was adjusting to the college game and actually using some of his athletic advantages.

No one was expecting Johnson to become the undisputed No. 1 receiver in the following season. Most of us thought he’d probably just maintain 2017’s pace, and just see his role shifted to a reliable possession receiver. But 2018 came and went, and Johnson’s production dropped dramatically. He managed just 14 receptions for 132 yards. It was a surprisingly steep drop for someone that had shown some promise just one year prior.

It culminated in the 2019 season and a key decision for Johnson. After playing just four games and recording only two receptions, Johnson met with the staff and elected to redshirt.

Theoretically, this should help Johnson for 2020. It allows the staff to “bridge the gap” between last year’s veteran-heavy group and this year’s fresh-faced corps. It gives Johnson more time to work on his game, while also providing him a wide receiver room that isn’t filled to the brim with better players.

Of the three players we’ve focused on in this series, Johnson has the most favorable set up of them all. The path is clear in front of him if he wants to return to being a major contributor on the team. Demanding an 800-yard, 8 touchdown season is unreasonable. But asking him to replicate something like his 2017 year shouldn’t be so difficult. We all want the loaded incoming freshman receiver class to excel—and they can be helped along with someone like Johnson allowing them to ease into the game and show them what hard work can bring.