The NFL journey has been a tough and unforgiving one for Marcus Johnson. After going undrafted in the 2016 NFL Draft, he signed as an UDFA with the Philadelphia Eagles. It was there that he met then Eagles Offensive Coordinator and now Colts Head Coach Frank Reich and developed a strong relationship with him. After two years with the Eagles, however, Johnson was traded along with a fifth round pick for Michael Bennett, and was on his way to Seattle to join the Seahawks.
“I kind of got blindsided with the trade,” Johnson told me in an exclusive Film Session interview we did a month back.
Johnson never really got his shot in Seattle, either, as he was dealt at the end of training camp to the Colts for tight end Darrell Daniels. Luckily for Johnson, he was reunited with Coach Reich and that relationship really helped him establish a footing in Indianapolis right out of the gate.
“He’s a strong Christian man. I love him,” Johnson laughed. “He knows football and he loves it in and out. I believe you really establish yourself in this league when you have yourself somebody like a Frank Reich in your corner and having someone who believes in you and has seen you play and they are willing to take a chance on you and watch you grow.”
That belief allowed him to grow and he was able to find a little bit of success in 2018. He was on the verge of a breakout game against the Jets as he had two catches for 52 yards and a touchdown in the first half before suffering what would become a season ending injury on special teams later in the half.
After this setback, Johnson had a slow start to training camp in 2019 while dealing with a few other injuries as well. This led to him being cut prior to the season in favor of other receivers on the roster. He would later return to the team in week 10 after injuries to T.Y. Hilton and Devin Funchess and would go on to have an impressive end to the season. Through all his ups and downs in the league, Johnson has learned some very valuable lessons about how the NFL works for players.
“I’ve been through it all. I’ve had injuries, been cut, made the roster, and the thing that I’ve learned is this league is unforgiving,” Johnson explained. “It’s what have you done for me lately. Talent is constantly flowing in and you have to get better every year. It’s all about progress.”
Progress has been made with Johnson, who finished the year really strong with the Colts and established himself as a player who can win down the field vertically and win in contested catch situations over the middle of the field. This was ever so apparent in his breakout game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he hauled in three catches for 105 yards and a touchdown. For Johnson though, it just felt great to be on the same page with quarterback Jacoby Brissett.
“There were earlier points in the season where I would just talk to him,” Johnson said. “As a receiver you have to get that time in and let him know that you are open. I think those prior conversations is what it took to really help us get that connection going.”
While the game after that against the Saints wasn’t extremely pretty for the Colts, Johnson again made his mark as he made a ridiculous catch in the first half that even he couldn’t believe he made.
“I just flipped my hips and I was able to locate it and hold onto it. If you really look at it man, it’s like two fingers on one side and a few on the other… I don’t even know man,” Johnson then joked. “Only thing I can attest that to is the jugs machine and I do a little hot yoga too so I’m sure that helped.”
Overall, it ended up being a solid year for Johnson as he ended up catching 17 of his 25 catchable targets for 277 yards and two touchdowns in just eight games played. Of his 17 catches, 14 of them went for a first down and he led the team in yards per catch with an average of 16.3. For Johnson, though, with everything he has endured in this league, he is just excited for year three.
“It’s just a blessing to be in this league and to be competing and playing. It’s just so hard to really establish yourself and that’s why I’m so thankful I’m going on this third year with the Colts.”
With year three comes new opportunities and new additions to the team. The Colts went out and signed veteran quarterback Philip Rivers to a one year 25 million dollar contract in hopes that he can come in and fix this dreadful passing offense. For Johnson, Rivers gives off the same mentality and work ethic that he has noticed in other elite quarterbacks he has played with in this league.
“It’s going to be awesome. I’ve had the privilege of being around a lot of great quarterbacks in Carson Wentz, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, and now him,” Johnson explained. “All those guys, right when they walk in the building, it’s business. I’m excited to see what he brings to the team.”
On top of adding Rivers, the Colts made another addition that benefits the receiver group as they hired Mike Groh to be the WR Coach. Groh spent time as Johnson’s position coach in Philadelphia and he couldn’t be more excited to have his old coach back in the fold here in Indy.
“Mike can be an offensive coordinator in this league. As a receiver coach, he’s intense man,” Johnson detailed. “You may not always like the way he does it but you gotta respect it. He’s a guy that commands respect in a wide receiver room.”
With the progress Johnson has made and with all the additions the team has made to the offense, it is pretty hard to not expect big things for this team in 2020. While Johnson personally doesn’t like making predictions or setting expectations for the team, he did say this when we discussed 2020 towards the end of our talk:
“What you’ll get from me and from this team is just hard-ass work. Every year our mindset is Super Bowl, just like everybody else. As a competitor, you have to think that way. I will say there will be growth and it’s gonna be explosive man.”
It is going to be explosive. I can’t think of a better way to describe this Colts offense before the 2020 season. With players like Jonathan Taylor, T.Y. Hilton, Marlon Mack, Michael Pittman Jr, Nyheim Hines, Zach Pascal, Parris Campbell— and Marcus Johnson— this offense has the ability to be explosive next year. Keep an eye out for this guy in 2020 as he should have a noticeable impact as Hilton’s backup at the Z WR spot.
If any of you are interested in viewing the full interview, it is posted up on my Youtube channel. Here is the link below of the interview where all these quotes (and many more good ones) come from with Johnson: