Cardinal influences molding rookie KeeSean Johnson into NFL wideout

Jul 30, 2019, 3:15 PM | Updated: 11:00 pm
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, left, stretches out with wide receiver KeeSean Jo...
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, left, stretches out with wide receiver KeeSean Johnson (19) prior to running drills at the team's NFL football training facility, Wednesday, June 12, 2019, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — He may have been the last wide receiver taken by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2019 NFL Draft, but rookie wideout KeeSean Johnson is quickly turning heads.

Having already received praise from Cardinals general manager Steve Keim, as well as first-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury through just one week of the team’s training camp, Johnson is on everyone’s radar.

But while the wide receiver’s excited to get the early feedback, Johnson’s not letting a few soundbites on his early successes allow him to let up.

He knows it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“That just means for me to keep working hard and keep staying consistent and doing the things I’m doing, day in and day out,” Johnson said when asked about his thoughts on what’s been said.

“I feel like there’s still plays out there that can be made, for me and as a unit,” he added. “So I’m just going to come out and work everyday and compete with our team.”

Using that same mentality during his four-year college career at Fresno State, Johnson showed just what he could bring to an offense. Especially in his final two seasons with the team.

Recording back-to-back 1,000-yard years, Johnson was clear and away the Bulldogs’ top threat through the air.

After narrowly reaching the 1,000-yard mark on 77 catches in 2017, Johnson stepped his game up the following season, jumping up to 95 grabs to go along with more than 1,300 yards receiving. He recorded eight touchdowns in each of his last two seasons with Fresno State.

He ended his senior year fourth among FBS in receptions, sixth in yards with 1,340 and tied for 51st in touchdowns. He averaged 6.8 receptions a game and 14.1 yards per catch.

For reference, fellow rookie wide receiver Andy Isabella led all FBS in yards (1,698) and second in receptions (102). Hakeem Butler reeled in 60 balls and was ninth in receiving yards (1,318).

But gone are Johnson’s college days as he works to be NFL ready.

Luckily, he’s got veteran help on both sides of the ball helping form him into a true pro.

“As your first day coming in as a rookie, you look around and see guys that you kinda looked up to or guys that you’ve heard are good names or great players in the NFL,” Johnson said. “Once you go against them and make a couple plays you feel good, but you’ve got to keep going, keep pushing yourself to strive to be better.”

Offensively speaking, Johnson, who calls his route-running and catching ability his best attributes, couldn’t have a better mentor than Larry Fitzgerald.

“Just how he’s a pro all around, on and off the field,” Johnson said when asked about what he’s picked up from the All-Pro. “His finishing ability down the field just catching the ball and just making great plays all around.

“I’m going to soak as much in as I can from him and try to learn everything that he’s got and he’s done in this league and try to just build on it.”

In addition, Johnson is getting some run with the first team, adding to the learning curve the team has set.

“It can boost your confidence, help you out a little bit, but for me personally, I just look at it as another play going against another player,” Johnson said.

But Fitz isn’t the only one to have helped fine-tune Johnson’s play.

On the other side of the ball, Patrick Peterson and Robert Alford, both physically and mentality, are grooming the young wideout.

“Going against [Peterson] personally is a blessing for me and I’m grateful for the opportunity,” Johnson said of the Pro Bowler. “He’s going to push me to get better and I’m going to do the same.”

Alford, on the other hand, is working to toughen up the rookie mentally. Even from the sidelines.

“Personally I feel like as a young player it’s only going to help you get better so you keep your mind grounded in the game when someone’s talking to you like that. I take it as a good thing and laugh it off every now and then.

“I haven’t gone against him that much but if he’s on the sideline and I’m in or if I’m in and he’s on the other side, he’ll be like ’19 I don’t see you,'” Johnson added of Alford. “Just got to keep making plays for him to see me.”

It’s not clear as to what the team will do in terms of the number of wide receivers it will keep on the roster, but with the early returns on the WR, Johnson seems to be a necessary piece moving forward.

He knows, however, that there’s still plenty to learn.

“We still have a long ways to go in camp and a lot more things to show as a unit,” Johnson said. “I’m just going to push everyday.”

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