*WR grades can and will change as more information comes in from Pro Day workouts, Wonderlic test results leaked, etc. We will update ratings as new info becomes available.

*WR-B stands for "Big-WR," a classification we use to separate the more physical, downfield/over-the-top, heavy-red-zone-threat-type WRs. Our WR-S/"Small-WRs" are profiled by our computer more as slot and/or possession-type WRs who are typically less physical and rely more on speed/agility to operate underneath the defense and/or use big speed to get open deep...they are not used as weapons in the red zone as much. 


NFL Draft 2021 Scouting Report: WR Cade Johnson, South Dakota State

*WR grades can and will change as more information comes in from Pro Day workouts, Wonderlic test results leaked, etc. We will update ratings as new info becomes available.

*WR-B stands for "Big-WR," a classification we use to separate the more physical, downfield/over-the-top, heavy-red-zone-threat-type WRs. Our WR-S/"Small-WRs" are profiled by our computer more as slot and/or possession-type WRs who are typically less physical and rely more on speed/agility to operate underneath the defense and/or use big speed to get open deep...they are not used as weapons in the red zone as much. 


I’m not sure how I want to convey this, but here goes…

Cade Johnson might be the best technical wide receiver in the 2021 NFL Draft class.

…but he’s NOT the best wide receiver prospect in this class. He might not even end up in our top five grades among WRs, though he might be the most talented, pure receiver.


Let me try to explain…

Cade Johnson might be the best ‘technician’ at WR in this draft. Meaning…Johnson runs the smartest/best routes of any WR that I have scouted thus far.  So far, D’Wayne Eskridge has the best feet I’ve seen for getting open right off the snap. Johnson’s aren’t as good as Eskridge’s, but he does have good feet off the snap too, but where he’s really gifted is a surreal ability to sell his movement and make corners fall for his fakes, and getting them out of position/trying to recover, with Johnson just naturally springing himself open.

Johnson’s gift for selling movement one way and then going another direction within his route on a dime, leaving the corner momentarily stunned or just ‘in the dust’ is excellent…and hard to describe with words. The best examples would be to go onto YouTube and look at his 1-on-1 work at the 2021 Senior Bowl. Johnson constantly left D1 ‘name’ corners moving in the wrong direction/lost or just falling down by putting on a series of moves so succinct, so subtle, so advanced that the DBs just couldn’t keep up.

There’s a reason why Johnson had back-to-back 1,200+ yard seasons and 25 receiving TDs in 26 games in 2018 and 2019 (his soph. and jr. years) despite fairly flimsy QB play – Johnson just gets open.

He gets open despite the fact he’s probably a 4.55-60+ runner… with that speed, he has to be the king of getting open to be not just ‘good’ but a star performer.

Johnson was a ZERO star recruit out of his school…too small, too slow. He went to South Dakota State as a walk-on. He redshirted as a freshman. He then set several SDSU kick return records his redshirt freshman debut season in 2017, including two kick return TDs (and nearly a third, tackled just shy). He became the team’s #1 WR weapon as a sophomore (67-1,332-17/13 games), while still acing kick returns. He had another big receiving year in his junior 2019 season (72-1,222-8/13 games) with a drop-off in QB play.

Johnson entered the transfer portal to go a D1 school for 2020 season, potentially…but ultimately decided to opt-out and focus on 2021 NFL Draft prep. He got a Senior Bowl invite and was a low-key technician/success there – but because he was an FCS guy, he didn’t get the full enthusiasm and accolades, just some ‘atta boys’ and ‘watch out for this guy’ mentions.

I’ve already proclaimed Johnson as an amazing route runner, but I failed to mention another top attribute…he probably has the best awareness/adjustments/procurements of in-flight balls of any WR in this draft. When Johnson does break a route deep, he’s usually tightly covered because he’s not a speed burner…but Johnson often makes the catch because he has superior concentration for the incoming pass with defenders in his face and his ability to adjust to misthrown or underthrown passes. Johnson will be tightly covered but change course last second and make a grab of an errant throw because he’s located the ball all along and the DB isn’t as aware where the ball is.

The things that make Johnson a great WR prospect are very hard to measure. And very hard for NFL teams to jump in on – because of questions like: Will Johnson’s lack of 40-time speed hurt him at the next level? Will he be able to ‘fake’ out NFL coverage to get open like he did at the FCS level?

The best technical WR that I’ve seen so far is Cade Johnson, but that doesn’t make him the best WR prospect for this class. Johnson has a ‘very specific set of skills’ that have a narrow usage – he needs to be working the slot in a role like Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Cole Beasley – guys who aren’t much to look at off the field, but then you watch them play and you’re like ‘son of a B…they are always open; why can no one cover them?’ They’re not always open, but they get ‘NFL open’ with a superior tight window throwing QB to make the connection.

Julian Edelman with Tom Brady = Hall of Famer for Edelman someday.

Julian Edelman with Cam Newton = sad.

Had Edelman been with Cam all his career…he wouldn’t have near the career, and we wouldn’t care about him or think about him at all. Ditto Randall Cobb + Aaron Rodgers back in the day (versus when Cobb left Rodgers, what happened?). Cade Johnson is terrific, but he has to go to the right situation to get fully unlocked for NFL stardom.

My best way to describe/compare and contrast Cade Johnson as a 2021 prospect, big picture…

NFL analysts will ALWAYS rank Kadarius Toney higher than Cade Johnson…100% of the time. You can see (pleasing to the eye watching 3-5 highlight reel plays) that Toney has great movement skills and is a natural catcher of the ball. Toney played in the SEC and thus he must be great – even though Toney sucked/underwhelmed most of his college career…had a flash/burst of production late in his career…and everyone ignores or is ignorant of all his very real off-field issues. But Toney is pleasing to the fan’s eye, has a recognizable name, has an SEC power team push in the media…so he gets highly rated for the draft.

Cade Johnson’s gifts are something you have to really dig in on to see/notice, and value. Johnson has a much cleaner character than Toney…is a much harder worker…and will make a much better pro on the field and off. But Toney has that sweet tape.

Do you want 3-5 great highlight plays to gawk at (Toney) or do you want real production, professionalism, and a gift (technician gift) better than anyone in this draft (I’ve seen so far) with Johnson? Do you want a guy who was a walk-on, zero-star recruit who grinded his way to greatness (Cade)…or do you want a guy who thinks he’s a gangster rapper who also plays football (Kadarius)?

Every single football analyst has signed up for the Kadarius Toney path.

As for me, I’ll take the Cade Johnson path every time.


Cade Johnson, Through the Lens of Our WR Scouting Algorithm:

 -- Faced D1 Minnesota in 2019…6 catches for 90 yards, 1 carry for 25 yards.

 -- Faced top FCS team North Dakota State three times in 2018 and 2019), he averaged: 3.7 rec., 76.0 rec. yards, 0.67 TDs per game.

 -- First game as a true WR starter (2018, opening game vs. Montana State): 9 rec., 138 yards, 4 TDs.

 -- Career rushing 12-182-0…15.1 yards per carry. 

Senior Bowl Measurements: 5’10.3”/186, 9.4” hands, 29.0 arms (not far off Kadarius Toney’s H/W)

Pro Day Estimates: 4.60 +/- 40-time, sub-7.0 three-cone

The Historical WR Prospects to Whom Cade Johnson Most Compares Within Our System:

Our computer scouting models compare Cade Johnson to all the ‘good/great hands’ WRs who were weak in ‘SPARQ’ type athleticism and were thus overlooked/graded poorly by us – but most went on to be successful niche WRs in the NFL.

Johnson, in our opinion, projects NFL better than all of them…except maybe Julian Edelman (not listed because he was higher end athletic in pre-draft testing). And I must note – we didn’t do a great job weighing the data and honoring these specialized skills 10+ years ago in our grading system. 


WR Score

Draft Yr







Power Strngth Metric

Speed Agility Metric

Hands Metric





So. Dakota St






















Texas Tech






















Ball State











Texas Tech


















*A score of 7.0+ is where we start to take a Small-WR prospect more seriously. A score of 8.50+ is where we see a stronger correlation of a Small-WR going on to become NFL good/great/elite. A score of 10.00+ is more rarefied air in our system and indicates a greater probability of becoming an elite NFL Small-WR.

All of the WR ratings are based on a 0–10 scale, but a player can score negative, or above a 10.0 in certain instances.

Overall WR score = A combination of several on-field performance measures, including refinement for strength of opponents faced. Mixed with all the physical measurement metrics, rated historically in our database.

“Power-Strength” = A combination of unique metrics surrounding physical-size profiling, bench press strength, etc.  High scorers here project to be more physical, better blockers, and less injury-prone.

“Speed-Agility” = A combination of unique metrics surrounding speed, agility, physical size, mixed with some on-field performance metrics. High scorers here project to have a better YAC and show characteristics to be used as deep threats/create separation.

“Hands” = A combination of unique metrics surrounding on-field performance in college, considering the strength of opponents played. Furthermore, this data considers some physical profiling for hand size, etc. High scorers here have a better track record of college statistical performance, and overall this projects the combination of performance and physical data for the next level.

2021 NFL Draft Outlook:

No surprise, I see Johnson barely ranked as a draftable player by most draft websites…while Kadarius Toney is top 50 for everyone. It makes no sense. In the end, I see Johnson getting drafted day three, probably in the 6th/7th-round…but maybe sneaking into the 5th-round.

If Johnson shocks at his Pro Day with like a low 4.5s 40-time and an attention getting three-cone/shuttle, then he might get into a day two discussion…but that’s a stretch.

If I were an NFL GM, I’d be taking a serious look at Johnson for the late-round price. You get a legit starting NFL WR potential, like a Week 1 rookie year talent…wise beyond his years…and get it at a discounted price (while some dope team takes Toney late 1st-round and gets praised by all the media and fans for doing so).

NFL Outlook:   

If Johnson lands in the right spot, he’s going to be one of those guys that pushes for the league lead in receptions one day…the QB’s best friend type. IF he lands with a good/great QB…AND gets a shot, instead of being buried because he’s an FCS player.