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NFL draft: Michigan’s Cornelius Johnson the next Nico Collins or Donovan Peoples-Jones?

“Helmet scouting” is normally frowned upon but the comparisons are so clear

Michigan v Indiana Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

With the Senior Bowl in the rearview mirror (but plenty of interviews to be published here from our Barry Shuck), the next step toward the NFL draft is the NFL combine in late February. While NFL free agency will take place between the combine and draft, college players will draw the most interest over the next few months.

In advance, it is important to note that scouting draft prospects is an imperfect science that even the best fail at regularly. Also want to note that “helmet scouting,” using a college’s history to define a player, isn’t a regularly helpful thing.

On the other hand, sometimes there are just such clear comparisons that it is interesting to look at them.

Such is the case for Michigan Wolverines WR Cornelius Johnson. The 6’3” receiver follows in the footsteps of fellow big Michigan receivers Nico Collins and Donovan Peoples-Jones. For Cleveland Browns fans, both players ring a bell.

Collins had a breakout year in 2023 with 80 receptions for 1,297 yards and eight touchdowns, including a huge game against Cleveland in the playoffs. Peoples-Jones spent over three years with the Browns with his best campaign coming in 2022 with 61 catches for 839 yards and three touchdowns.

As prospects for the NFL draft, both Collins and DPJ were measured as big, explosive athletes who didn’t have huge production for the Wolverines’ run-first offense. Both had some noted concerns about their ability to separate at the next level leading to Collins falling into the late third round and Peoples-Jones waiting until early in the sixth round to be picked.

Johnson is expected to measure between his two former Michigan receivers at about 6’3” with some questions about his ability to separate as well. As noted here, Johnson had a lot of success in contested catches but that could indicate an inability to get separation:

Johnson is also entering the draft as a fifth-year senior with similar production as Collins and DPJ in college.

As we enter the NFL combine and Pro Day process, it will be interesting to compare Johnson’s testing numbers to the other two Wolverine receivers. Johnson is currently considered a late-round selection but the success of Collins this season could bump him up the board if he tests well.