Juwan Johnson entered the NFL as a 6-foot-4, 231-pound wide receiver out of Oregon. Lauded for his physicality as a pass-catcher, Johnson went undrafted and changed his position tag to 'tight end.' In four years with the New Orleans Saints, Johnson has carved out a substantial role. Under former offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, he emerged as one of Derek Carr's favorite targets — especially in the red zone.
The 27-year-old managed another productive campaign in 2023, reeling in 37-of-59 targets for 368 yards and four touchdowns in 13 games (11 starts). Johnson ceded the occasional snap to Taysom Hill, Jimmy Graham, and Foster Moreau, but he was New Orleans' primary operator in the TE slot.
Johnson's work ethic and production is a potent combination. He wants to eventually break into the "great tier" at his position. Johnson worked hard to make the initial transition from wide receiver to tight end, learning the nuances of run concepts and embracing the dirty work inherent to the position.
Johnson and his wife, Chanen, spoke to FanSided's Sterling Holmes and Patrick Allen for 'Stacking the Box' and 'Arrowhead Addict.' He touched on the difficulties of learning a new position, his simple red zone mindset, and why we should all respect Derek Carr.
Juwan Johnson on the vast difference between wide receiver and tight end
On the surface, there isn't a world of difference between wide receivers and tight ends. Watching at home, it can be difficult to pick up on the specifics of what makes a tight end a tight end. Even Chanen quips "how are you supposed to know?" when Juwan talks about the difference between a successful block and an unsuccessful block. We have all been in the same boat.
Johnson had to learn those specifics on the fly after college. It's difficult enough to transition from amateur football to professional football. Factor in a change of position and a whole new set of guiding principles, and it sounds damn near impossible. But, Johnson made it work — and he provided FanSided with a concise breakdown of what makes the tight end position such a unique challenge.
"The hardest thing [about tight end] is... understanding blocking and running concepts. I knew nothing about run concepts. What is a jab counter? What is a power? I had no idea. But, just me investing my time, learning the run schemes, that was the biggest thing for me. Passing? I could do whatever, you could put me at any position, I know what I'm doing. But, in terms of the run stuff... I had to take a long time and a lot of hard work to get to it."
That doesn't impact Johnson so much as a pass-catcher, though. He still has soft hands and the brute force necessary to punish undersized defensive backs. Johnson has developed quite the reputation for end zone catches, and the way he explains it, the recipe for success close to the goal line is rather simple.
"My mentality [is the biggest factor close to the red zone]. When you get past 25 yards and in, I'm thinking 'this is my touchdown.'"
Of course, equally key is the man throwing those touchdowns. For the Saints, Derek Carr took over signal-caller duties last season. It was a bumpy first rodeo for the former Raider, but Johnson thinks Carr is unfairly maligned. He heaped praise on the four-time Pro Bowl QB, citing the injuries and external pressure Carr overcame in his first campaign with New Orleans. Johnson even compared Carr's leadership style to a former college teammate-turned-NFL superstar.
"[Derek Carr] is a little like Justin Herbert. He's not a rowdy rowdy guy, but he is like a silent assassin in some ways, and that's something that I love about Derek... I'm always riding with Derek."
The Saints face difficult decisions this offseason. But, it would appear that Carr has the full support of the locker room, despite the Saints' disappointing 8-9 record. Johnson spoke glowingly about the team's camaraderie, even touching on the controversial collective decision to get Jamaal Williams his first touchdown late in New Orleans' season finale.
Carr is a selfless leader — the kind who can talk to teammates about anything, always approachable. If Johnson has any say, it sounds like New Orleans will at least put one more season into the Carr experiment.
Juwan and Chanen Johnson spoke to FanSided on behalf of Total by Verizon - the prepaid no-contract wireless brand powered by Verizon.