Packers Eyeing Former Record-Setting College Receiver

KJohnson Packers Workout

Getty KeeSean Johnson #19 of the Arizona Cardinals runs after his catch during an 18-7 Los Angeles Rams win at SoFi Stadium on January 03, 2021 in Inglewood, California.

KeeSean Johnson, one of the most prolific wide receivers in Fresno State history, is getting roster consideration from the Green Bay Packers.

According to the NFL’s official transaction wire for September 6, the Packers hosted Johnson and three other players for roster workouts on Tuesday as they prepare for their 2022 season opener against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, September 11.

Johnson was a 2019 sixth-round pick for the Arizona Cardinals and has caught 36 passes for 360 yards and a touchdown over 18 games since coming into the NFL. He also remains the all-time program leader in receptions (275) and receiving yards (3,463) for Fresno State, where former Packers All-Pro Davante Adams played college ball.

Most recently, Johnson split his preseason between the San Francisco 49ers (one game) and Atlanta Falcons (two games), catching both of his targets for 36 yards, but he has been unable to secure a practice-squad spot since 53-man roster cuts were made.

The Packers’ other workout players on Tuesday included two undrafted rookies — defensive tackle Kevin Atkins (also Fresno State) and defensive back Darrell Baker Jr. (Georgia Southern) — and second-year cornerback Olaijah Griffin.

The Packers could simply be looking to keep their files current on available free agents, but they will also be releasing their first injury report for Week 1’s matchup on Wednesday. If they have any injured players who could miss the opener, they might promote from their practice squad and look for additional reinforcements elsewhere.

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Cards Believed Johnson Would Break Out in 2019

Johnson might still be best known for his exploits at Fresno State, but there was a time when the Cardinals believed he could be the next breakout player for their offense.

After the Cardinals used a sixth-round pick on Johnson in 2019, the 6-foot-1, 201-pound rookie quickly started to build a reputation for being one of the most consistent pass-catchers on the practice field. The early readings on him were so strong that Cardinals general manager Steve Keim told NFL Network prior to training camp that he believed Johnson could potentially be their breakout player of the year if he maintained his consistency.

“So far, early on, KeeSean Johnson has looked fantastic. He’s a guy that I think could break out as a rookie,” Keim said in July 2019, later adding that Johnson was “a real natural route runner. To me, one of the best natural route runners in the draft, and to be able to get him later in the draft on Day 3 was a good get.”

Unfortunately, Johnson didn’t really capitalize on the opportunities given to him. The Cardinals ran the majority of their passing offense through Larry Fitzgerald (109 targets) and Christian Kirk (108 targets) during his rookie year, but they did give Johnson the fifth-largest share of the passing targets behind running back David Johnson (47) and wideout Damiere Byrd (46). He was targetted 42 times, but he caught just half of those passes for just 187 yards and one touchdown — hardly breakout territory.

Johnson did more with less in his follow-up season, catching 15 of his 23 targets for seven first downs and 173 yards, but the Cardinals moved on before his third season. A change of scenery didn’t do him much good, either, as he joined up with the Philadelphia Eagles for the 2021 season but didn’t play a single game.


Packers’ Other Workouts Are Mostly Projects

Since Johnson wasn’t the only player the Packers auditioned for a roster spot on Tuesday, here’s a closer look at each of the other three workout players:

Kevin Atkins, DT (rookie): The 6-foot-3, 305-pound mauler capped his five seasons at Fresno State with a career year for their defensive trenches, notching 41 total tackles, 13 tackles for loss, seven tackles and two fumble recoveries in 2021. He originally signed as an undrafted free agent with San Francisco, but he struggled over his three games of preseason action with just one total pressure and one stop on 48 total snaps.

Darrell Baker Jr., CB (rookie): Baker missed out on his chance to compete for a roster spot with the Cardinals this summer due to an undisclosed injury that eventually led to him being waived with an injury settlement, but his workout with the Packers indicates he could be healthy again. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound defender played both safety and cornerback during his five seasons at Georgia Southern, showing good coverage skills and acceleration in the secondary. He also clocked 4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

Olaijah Griffin, CB: Another potential depth piece at cornerback, Griffin has spent time with both the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants since going undrafted in 2021, but his preseason performances have left much to be desired. Over six career preseason games, he has been targetted 11 times in coverage and allowed a total of 10 receptions for 121 yards. He has also missed three tackles over that span despite making 11.

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