Theo Johnson Bringing On-Field Productivity & Leadership Experience To NFL Draft

The kid from Ontario, Canada, is soon to be off to the NFL.

Penn State football tight end Theo Johnson is set to hear his name called at the NFL Draft in the coming week. After signing for the Nittany Lions as the No. 3 tight end in his class, Johnson has made a name for himself as one of college football’s best in his position across four years in Happy Valley.

Johnson first came to Penn State as a four-star recruit, one of Canada’s best and a top prospect in his position, per the 247Sports Composite ratings. During a true freshman season in 2020, Johnson appeared in seven games and started once, fighting for reps with Pat Freiermuth and Brenton Strange.

Once Freiermuth left State College for Pittsburgh in 2021, Johnson sat behind Strange as the now-Jacksonville Jaguar ran the Nittany Lions’ tight end room for two years. During the 2021 and 2022 seasons, Johnson appeared in 24 games, recording 39 catches for 541 yards and five touchdowns.

Before the 2023 season, Johnson was briefly in the news after he got in trouble for a fight at a Penn State fraternity. After punching a man at Sigma Chi Fraternity on February 11, 2023, Johnson was charged with assault. He was later sentenced to six months of Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition. That same offseason, Penn State named Johnson a team captain.

With Strange’s departure, Johnson still didn’t have a chance to take over the starting tight end job for Penn State in 2023. With fellow junior Tyler Warren also waiting in the wings and a struggling wide receiver corps on the field, Johnson and Warren were considered dual starters as Penn State often ran a 12-personnel scheme.

While he wasn’t the only tight end in the spotlight, Johnson shone for Penn State. In his 2023 campaign, Johnson caught 34 passes for 341 yards and seven touchdowns. Penn State’s tight ends also drew praise from James Franklin for their pass blocking.

Together, Warren and Johnson created one of the country’s best tight end rooms. The Nittany Lions threw more touchdowns to their tight ends than most programs in the nation as Franklin often leaned on his tight ends to carry his receiver corps.

While Warren and Johnson split reps for the Nittany Lions in 2023, only Johnson threw his name in the hat for the draft while Warren stayed with Penn State. Johnson is predicted to be one of Penn State’s top options in Detriot, Michigan, when the draft begins.

“While teams might want to place him in an elevated silo for consideration, they might not find the consistency or high number of flashes on tape that they were expecting,” NFL draft analyst Lance Zierlen said of Johnson. “Johnson’s run blocking is below average for his size, and adopting a glass-eating mentality in conjunction with technique work could help him improve in that area. He’ll make contested catches and is adequate against man coverage, but he lacks dynamic qualities as a pass catcher.”

Zierlen predicted Johnson to land as a third-round selection and several NFL mock drafts agree. While he might not land as high as Olu Fashanu or Chop Robinson, Johnson should hear his name called fairly early.

The 2024 NFL Draft begins at 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 25, and ends on Saturday, April 27. It’ll be televised on ABC and the NFL Network.

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About the Author

Joe Lister

Joe is a junior journalism major at Penn State and Onward State's managing editor. He covers Penn State football, among other Penn State sports. He also listens to Mac Miller more than you. If you want to find him, Joe's usually watching soccer with his shirt off or at the gym with his shirt on. For dumb stuff, follow him on Twitter (iamjoelister). For serious stuff, email him ([email protected]).

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