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NFL Draft

Keep An Eye On This Heisman Trophy Longshot This Season

  • The Draft Network
  • August 25, 2021
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It’s a bit of a stretch, I know. But the thought of a true freshman coming in as the starter for the last two games—tough ones at that—of an adverse 2020 season for LSU and winning both of them was a stretch too.

There are several players who have been named Heisman Trophy front runners at quarterback and other positions ahead of the 2021 season, but as far as long-shots go, Max Johnson is one to keep in mind in case the unexpected happens. Currently, his odds to do so are obviously a bit stiff at 50/1.

But Johnson is no stranger to giving us the unexpected.

Johnson and LSU shocked the nation when he guided the Tigers to a 37-34 upset victory over the then-No. 6-ranked Florida Gators on the road in one of the foggiest games we’ve ever seen—or couldn’t really see because that’s just how thick it was. Then, he finished out his 2-0 starting campaign by defeating Lane Kiffin’s visiting Ole Miss team, 53-48 in Tiger Stadium.

Over those two games, Johnson completed over 55% of his passes for 674 yards with six touchdowns and just one interception. There’s some room for Johnson to improve as a passer, but he still did more than a respectable job considering he was thrown into the fire against tough opponents with hardly any college football experience at all—and you could hardly ask for a better touchdown-to-interception ratio there.

And in terms of accuracy in general, the dropped passes aren’t included in those numbers, and it’s important to note LSU did throw the ball some 51 times against the Rebels and Johnson completed 27 of those attempts for 435 yards. To serve as a reference point, KJ Costello completed 36-of-60 passing attempts (making for a similar completion percentage) for 623 yards against LSU and it was considered one of the better SEC quarterback performances.

Johnson’s overall decision-making was impressive, which may partially stem from the fact that he’s the son of a former NFL quarterback. Signal-callers who come from a football family typically grow up in a household where there’s a lot of film being watched and a lot of additional “mental training.”

Johnson is in a fantastic position to really get things going as he aims for upward momentum in his college career, with LSU essentially going back to its “national championship roots” by hiring offensive coordinator Jake Peetz and passing game coordinator DJ Mangas away from the Carolina Panthers. Both Peetz and Mangas spent time with former LSU passing game coordinator Joe Brady, who played a huge role in making the Tigers offense what it was on the team’s undefeated season. The way it looks on paper, they could be poised to do it again between the combination of the staff, an offensive line that returns several starters and is expected to improve, a promising wide receivers room that features standout Kayshon Boutte, and a defense that has one of the most impressive secondaries with the cornerback duo of Derek Stingley Jr. and Elias Ricks.

So, the pieces are in place around Johnson (in theory).

Another aspect of Johnson’s game to consider is the mobility he brings to the table—the ability to evade pressure, make plays on the run, and use his legs to make something out of very little to nothing. And if you haven’t checked out his spin moves yet, you ought to do yourself a favor and go back and look at the tape.

Johnson did some impressive things on the ground last year in what little glimpse we got of him, recording 119 rushing yards—most of which came in those last two games. That’s an area we might see him expand upon moving forward and something that serves him well in cases where his offensive line may fail him.

If Johnson can take home the Heisman this year or at any point in his college career, he’ll be the first LSU quarterback to do so since Burrow’s historic 2019 season—a player who also was hardly on anyone’s radar before the season kicked off.

There are a lot of “what-ifs” surrounding Johnson and LSU, but the ceiling is something special.

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