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Canadian TE Johnson ready to make most of rookie season with Giants

New York Giants Theo Johnson (47) - Getty Images

Theo Johnson is ready to begin his rookie season in the National Football League.

The Windsor, Ont., native was selected by the New York Giants in the fourth round (107th overall) of the 2024 NFL Draft. Johnson was the first Canadian skill position player to be drafted and the second one taken after offensive lineman Isaiah Adams, a native of Ajax, Ont., was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the third round.

Johnson, 23, got his first taste of the pros earlier this month, completing rookie minicamp before reporting for Giants’ organized team activities, which began on Monday.

After completing a long junior season at Penn State, which included an appearance in the Senior Bowl and a touchdown catch against Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl, Johnson says he is ready to move on from the draft process and make the most of the opportunity the Giants have given him.

"It's been a super surreal experience to go through this. It's been long but it's been a great process, I feel really good about it, and I have no regrets,” Johnson told “You work so hard for a lot of your life for an opportunity like this and it's been presented to me, so now I'm just trying to take everything that comes my way in full stride.”

Johnson made waves after an impressive showing at the draft combine, where he ran a 4.57 40-yard dash and recorded a 39.50-inch vertical jump, both second among all tight ends.

The 6-foot-6, 260 pounder started all 13 games in his final season at Penn State, posting career highs across the board with 34 receptions and 341 yards. He also caught a career-high seven touchdowns in 2023, tying him for third all-time in a single season among Penn State tight ends. His seven scores were also tied for second-most among all NCAA tight ends last season, just behind leaders Jared Wiley and Jack Velling (eight). 

With his size and impressive athletic profile, Johnson says he models his game after two of the most prolific two-way tight ends of the past decade, San Francisco 49ersGeorge Kittle and four-time Super Bowl champion Rob Gronkowski. 

"I have a lot of respect for how Kittle plays the game and how he approaches not only the pass game, but the run game,” said Johnson. “Since I've been [in camp] I've been watching a ton of Gronkowski's stuff. Just his physicality and how he attacks the ball and how he approaches the pass game."

Johnson didn’t become a starter until his final season with the Nittany Lions but took full advantage of his only year as a featured weapon, finishing the season tied for first on the team in receiving touchdowns and third in receiving yards. Johnson says he carried the confidence from his breakout campaign through the season and into the draft process.

“I feel like I've always felt super confident in my abilities. I think it's just a matter of getting the opportunities to be able to show it, so when those opportunities came, I took them in full stride.” said Johnson. 

“I felt super confident going into the pre-draft process. I was healthy, I was moving well, and I think it showed at the Senior Bowl and the combine as well. I've always had confidence in my abilities. It was just a matter of showing it and getting the opportunities to show it.”

Penn State has a long history of producing NFL-calibre tight ends and Johnson looks to be the next in line. He finished his four-year college career with 77 catches for 938 yards, and 12 touchdowns to tie for third-most among tight ends in program history, trailing only Pittsburgh SteelersPat Freiermuth (16) and Cincinnati BengalsMike Gesicki (15). 

“I think the big thing [at Penn State] was continuing that legacy and leaving my own mark on it and upholding the standard that has been set long before me. I think I did that.” said Johnson. “The legacy I left was upholding the standard of how to carry yourself – not only as a player, a teammate, as a man in the tight end room.

“The physicality, the grit, the leadership it takes to play the tight end position. I think that's what I've done and the stamp I've left on the room in my time there at Penn State.”

With the start of training camps fast approaching, there is some uncertainty in the Giants' tight end room with veteran starter Darren Waller reportedly considering retirement. While no decision has been made, Johnson says his approach to training camp will not change, despite the possibility of a starting position being available.

“Whether he’s in the room or not, I’m approaching it as I’ve got to get going as quickly as I possibly can,” said Johnson. “Even if he is here, you never know how the season will shake out. You could be the four [on the depth chart] and two weeks later you could be the one. It's how I've prepared my whole college career, it's how I prepared even when I wasn't the dude. 

“It would be great for him to be in the room. He's played a lot of ball; I could learn a ton from him. But at the end of the day, I'm not sure how it's going to look. However it looks, I'm going to be prepared for whatever role I'm given.”

Learning and growing are central themes for Johnson as OTAs continue through June 7 before mandatory minicamp begins on June 11. 

While the towering tight end continues to get acclimated to life in the NFL, he remains focused on working and grinding to continue making the most of every opportunity that comes his way as he embarks on his first season in the NFL. 

“I'm going to work my tail off. I'm working to get as much of a role as I'm able to earn. But whatever that looks like, I'm going to grind it out,” said Johnson. “There's so much information to gain as a player. I'm looking forward to continuing to learn and continuing to grow. The big thing for me is to earn the respect and trust of not only the coaches, but my teammates and my quarterbacks because that will help me have a good career here.

"I'm not going to make any big promises, but whenever I get an opportunity you better believe I'm going to make the most of it.”