STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Juwan Johnson was smiling while answering some tough questions about an even tougher season. The Penn State redshirt junior wide receiver had his name in some preseason mock drafts as a potential NFL first-round pick.
In an early 2019 NFL mock draft by the Sporting News published in May, Johnson was predicted to go seventh overall in the first round.
Yet things haven’t worked out well this season for the 6-foot-4, 225-pound former star at Glassboro High.
In nine games this season, Johnson has 23 receptions for 399 yards and a touchdown.
He has been plagued by a case of the drops and an injury.
After missing three consecutive games due to that injury, Johnson returned for the regular-season finale and had two receptions for 46 yards in the Nittany Lions 38-3 win over visiting Maryland.
During a press gathering on Friday at Penn State as the Nittany Lions (9-3) prepare for their Jan. 1 Citrus Bowl game in Orlando against Kentucky (9-3), Johnson never lost his cool, even when the questions persisted about his disappointing season.
“It has been a rough season,” Johnson said. “Ultimately it isn’t about me. It is about me being an influence on others and not about me harping on my situation but kind of helping the team around me.”
Johnson insists he hasn’t lost his confidence and neither have those around him.
“I think he’s going to have a big bowl game,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “I think he’s going to have a great off-season. I think he’s going to have a really bright future.”
But is that future with Penn State?
Johnson wouldn’t say whether he is going to return next season to Penn State or enter the NFL draft.
“I am just focused on Kentucky right now,” he said. “I am not trying to bring any attention to me or any other players who will probably be leaving or suggested to leave"
Johnson had just two receptions for 70 yards as a redshirt freshman, but he blossomed last year. As a sophomore, Johnson started all 13 games and had 54 receptions for 701 yards and one touchdown, which came as time expired in a 21-19 win at Iowa.
Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley feels that Johnson’s undisclosed injury this season, played a major part in his struggles.
“He had a pretty significant injury he was dealing with,” McSorley said. “He is obviously back and better but for a couple of weeks there, it was giving him issues.”
McSorley understands why there had been so much hype around Johnson, whose oldest brother George was a standout defensive lineman at Rutgers and who played with four NFL teams, most recently in New Orleans last year.
“When he is out there playing confident, playing fast, I don’t’ really think there is anyone who can cover him given his size, his speed strength and ability,” McSorley said.
While Johnson has struggled this year on the field, he hasn’t let it affect him in the classroom. In fact on Saturday, he will graduate with a degree in telecommunications.
“Coming here to a prestigious university, getting a degree, will be humbling for me and my mother,” he said.
In a different way, this has been a humbling season, but Juwan Johnson remains upbeat and anxiously awaits one final chance.
“It is sort of toward the end where I am a junior (eligibility-wise)/senior,” Johnson said. “I don’t have many opportunities left, so I sort of going out there having fun and letting loose.”