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Another Tyler Johnson could be scoring for Tampa Bay

The Bucs get their No. 3 receiver in the fifth round and then go for depth as the draft concludes Saturday.
Published Apr. 26, 2020
Updated Apr. 26, 2020

TAMPA — Tyler Johnson made catch after highlight-reel catch in his final collegiate game for Minnesota, earning the MVP of the Outback Bowl.

By the time the Golden Gophers upset Auburn 31-24, he had 12 receptions for 204 yards and two touchdowns — including an acrobatic, one-handed job while toe-tapping the back of the end zone at Raymond James Stadium.

It was a crowd-pleasing performance, and one spectator who never forgot it was Bucs coach Bruce Arians.

On Saturday, with no remaining fourth-round picks, Arians had to wait anxiously for Johnson as receivers started peeling off the draft board.

Related: Bucs revamped their image in 16 months. Now they just have to win.

“Oh, man. I can’t tell you how long I was waiting,’’ Arians said. “I was just shaking waiting on that one. I actually sat here and watched that game here in Tampa with my son and said, ‘I’ve got to get this guy.’ I mean, it was like we really wanted him. We had a high grade. It was like guys were coming and going and, 'Whew, we finally got him,’ and I was really, really excited.’’

The Bucs selected Johnson in the fifth round (161 overall), reuniting him with teammate and Gophers co-captain Antoine Winfield Jr. The safety was the Bucs’ second-round pick Friday.

A two-time, first-team All-Big Ten pick, Johnson had a monstrous season last fall, catching 86 passes for 1,318 yards and 13 touchdowns.

“It’s a very surreal moment,’’ he said. "Once you make it to the next level, the highest level, you have to re-start your entire journey. Nothing is guaranteed, nothing is given to you, so I’m just going to continue to go out here, work my tail off and help contribute to a great organization.”

Related: NFL draft grades: Bucs pick up players who can help them now

The Bucs got everything for Tom Brady in the NFL draft except his eventual replacement.

He has no quarterback heir, apparent or otherwise, but with the number of weapons and additions on offense, the 42-year-old Brady may play forever.

Tampa Bay traded up one spot with the 49ers Thursday to take Iowa tackle Tristan Wirfs and then drafted a pass-catching running back in the third round in Vanderbilt’s Ke’Shawn Vaughn.

Johnson completed the immediate needs on offense, especially with last week’s trade for tight end Rob Gronkowski and a seventh-rounder from the Patriots for a fourth-round pick. Johnson will be the third receiver with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, capable of playing the slot or outside.

The Bucs also did not deal tight end O.J. Howard.

Related: The driving force behind Bucs first-round pick Tristan Wirfs

Johnson may not be the speed threat the Bucs coveted, but he gets in and out of breaks quickly, has running-back vision after the catch and a nose for the end zone. His 32 touchdown receptions since 2018 are the second-most in college football over that span.

The fact that Johnson didn’t run the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine, and the cancellation of pro days, may have hurt his status.

“Honestly, it’s very amazing knowing I can bring a lot into this offense, and I’m expected to bring a lot to this offense,’’ Johnson said. “Pretty much what I’m going to do is play my role, man. I’m looking forward to making plays. Whatever I’ve got to block, I’ve got to block. Whenever I’ve got to catch the ball, I got to catch the ball.’’

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The rest of the Bucs’ draft was used to acquire depth.

In the sixth round, the Bucs took Nebraska defensive tackle Khalil Davis, who led the Cornhuskers with eight sacks and 12 tackles for loss in 2019. His twin brother, Carlos, who started at defensive end for Nebraska, went one round later to the Steelers.

Related: Bucs sign undrafted free-agent quarterback Reid Sinnett

Davis opened the Bucs’ eyes at the NFL scouting combine when he ran a 4.75 40-yard dash at 6-feet 2, 308 pounds and pressed 32 reps of 225 pounds on the bench.

Davis’ parents had to buy a second refrigerator his senior year as he and Carlos ate eight chicken breasts and a can of corn each almost every night.

“They had to get a second refrigerator in their room, and their grocery bill just got way too expensive my senior year because of both of us,’’ Davis said. “It was hard for them to keep up with that.’’

Related: NFL draft photo gallery: What you should know about every Bucs pick

The Bucs concluded the draft with two seventh-round picks: Temple linebacker Chapelle Russell and 5-foot-8 Louisiana running back Raymond Calais, who rushed for 886 yards and scored six touchdowns last season.

“I think Ke’Shawn Vaughn is a guy that can play every down,’’ Arians said. “I don’t consider him a David Johnson. And Raymond is a much smaller version of David Johnson. He’s a heck of a little running back. I wouldn’t say he’s Tarik Cohen, but he’s that joystick-type guy who can go out and play wide receiver.’’

It’s not lost on Tampa Bay fans that there is another Tyler Johnson capable of scoring in town.

The Lightning center by the same name needled Brady on Twitter Saturday.

“Hey @TomBrady, looks like it’s Tyler Bay now,’’ he tweeted.

Shortly after the draft, the Bucs signed San Diego free agent quarterback Reid Sinnett, who passed for 32 touchdowns last season. But he would have a tough time cracking the 53-man roster.

“There were guys we were looking at today; they all got jumped on early,’’ Arians said.

Of course, when you have Brady, you don’t worry about the quarterback position. Expectations were climbing for the Bucs before the draft. They’re soaring now, and Arians doesn’t mind a bit.

“I love them, I embrace it,’’ Arians said. “I want our guys to feel we’re a team to beat.’’