Collin Johnson was in the midst of an outstanding training camp with the New York Giants in 2022 when he felt the snap of his right Achilles tendon while running a pass route during practice.
Anyone who has ever torn an Achilles (raises hand) knows the feeling. This was a first for Johnson but he said Wednesday during an interview in the Giants’ indoor practice facility that he “absolutely” knew what it was and knew his 2022 season was over before it began.
“You hear those horror stories,” Johnson said. “They say you just feel like you got kicked or somebody hit you with a bat or like something, and you could actually hear the pop as well.
“So I heard the pop. I felt like I got kicked, so I immediately knew. I didn’t like want to assume, but I had a strong idea of what happened.”
Johnson had 10 receptions on 12 targets for 123 yards in two preseason games. He had also been strong in practices, and had worked his way up to getting some first-team reps as the Giants tried to sort out the wide receiver position.
Johnson understood the missed opportunity, calling it “super frustrating,” but said he didn’t waste time wallowing in self pity.
“I never felt sorry for myself. People may call it cliche or naive or whatever, but I just truly believe, you know, everything happens for a reason. I believe life is happening for me, not to me,” Johnson said. I don’t really have a victim mentality. I never have in my life, and I didn’t get to this point in my life having a victim mentality.
“Sometimes negative thoughts creeped in. I’m human, trust me. But at the end of the day I realized, you know what, I’m gonna come back better than I was the year before. I don’t care what anyone else says. I don’t care what the statistics say I’m gonna come back even better. So I’m looking forward to coming into training camp and showing what I can do.”
Johnson took part in team drills throughout OTAs and looked like he was picking up where he left off before being injured a year ago.
“I feel better. I honestly do,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of testing with sports science nowadays and what not. So, we have force plates and a bunch of different baseline tests to kind of see where we’re at with force production, our vertical jump, our landing — all this stuff. This OTAs, post Achilles, my numbers were better than last OTAs, which is kind of crazy. So I could be even better.”
It might seem shocking that less than a year after a difficult injury like a torn Achilles, a player’s athletic testing numbers could be better than ever. Johnson, though, refuses to think that way.
“I told myself I’m gonna come back better. And I truly believe like the most important thing is belief,” Johnson said. “Especially in this league, but anything in life. So when I tore my Achilles, I was like, you know what, if I don’t believe in myself, no one’s gonna believe in me. So I made it like a point of emphasis every day I wake up I’m working to be better.”
Johnson, who turns 26 in September, was a fifth-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2020. He caught 18 passes a rookie but was cut the next season and picked up by the Giants. He had 11 receptions in 12 games as a part-time receiver and special teams player.
The wide receiver room has changed a great deal since last training camp. Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, Richie James and others are gone. Parris Campbell, Jalin Hyatt, Jamison Crowder and Jeff Smith — speedsters all — are in.
Johnson doesn’t have the speed of many of the receivers on the Giants roster. He ran a 4.65 40-yard dash at his 2020 Pro Day. At 6-foot-6 and 222 pounds, though, Johnson boasts size, strength and physicality no true wide receiver on the roster can match.
“I’m super confident in my skillset, just being a bigger receiver,” Johnson said. “I feel like I’m really good at third-and-5 or third-and-8, whatever, I can get to the sticks and feel like the DB can know my route and I can still create enough separation and use my body to catch the ball and continue to move the chains.
“Beating man-to-man coverage and also my ability to catch like jump balls and using my body control and length to do that.”
Johnson’s place on the 2023 53-man roster is anything but secure. Johnson, though, certainly sounded on Wednesday like he was excited about the challenge.
“I haven’t even seen the best I can do,” Johnson said. “I don’t feel like people have seen the best of me. I want to even have a better training camp, a better pre-season and a better season than I had last year. I didn’t have a season, but my point is I want to be even better than what people remembered me as.”