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10 Vikings Potential X-Factors in 2020: Bisi Johnson

EAGAN, Minn. — As Verizon Vikings Training Camp continues and the 2020 season nears, plenty of players will play key roles for the Vikings.

But some players will be in the spotlight more than others, whether it is because of roster turnover or their own progression in recent years.

This is a 10-part series about X-factors on the roster, consisting of players who could be primed for more playing time, and a chance to help the Vikings more than in years past.

Rookies are excluded, as are veterans who have already cemented themselves as vital players on the Vikings.

Up next? Vikings wide receiver Bisi Johnson. Here's why he could be an X-factor in 2020:

— Put together solid rookie season as seventh-round pick

— Trustworthy and appreciated by coaches and teammates

— Versatility allowed him to move around the field

2019 Recap

Stat line: 31 catches (on 45 targets) for 294 yards (9.5 yards per catch) and three touchdowns in 16 games (six starts)

Johnson was a seventh-round pick last spring, but he was still a bit of an unknown player to most after spring practices concluded in 2019.

View the top photos of Vikings WR Bisi Johnson from the 2019 season.

That changed in training camp and preseason games, as he worked himself off the bubble and onto the 53-man roster. While some expected him simply to be a depth player, he made six starts and filled in admirably for Adam Thielen when the Pro Bowler missed nearly two months with a hamstring injury.

Vikings Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak, who was in an advisory role in 2019 and had done some evaluation of the former Colorado State player when Kubiak was with Denver's personnel department, said Johnson just continued to get better as the season went along.

"We got in here with Bisi, a seventh-round player, you start practicing, you go in a coaching meeting and the special teams coach says, 'Boy, this guy really knows what he's doing.' It just kept adding up," Kubiak said. "He caught up very quickly. He can play a lot of positions, and then the minute Adam goes down, he starts six or seven games.

"When you're studying players coming out, you can say, 'Hey, I think this guy's a smart player, can handle a lot,' " Kubiak added. "But you really won't know until you get him, and he went above and beyond the call of duty there."

At 6-foot and 204 pounds, Johnson isn't the biggest or fastest receiver on the field by any means.

But he said the constant commitment to his game, even away from the facility, helped him grow in 2019.

"Yeah, I think it helped that I was putting in the extra work after practice," Johnson said. "Jake Browning and I threw I don't know how many times after practice, and I don't know how many balls, but it was a bunch.

"Then not only that, but locking in on the playbook after practice when I was back at the hotel, just hours upon hours of studying, which helped me a lot," Johnson added.

Johnson didn't top the 50-yard mark in a game in 2019, but was steady with five games of 30-plus yards.

Best Splash Play So Far

You always remember your first NFL touchdown catch.

Johnson's came early in the second quarter of a Week 7 road game in Detroit. Minnesota trailed 14-7 and needed someone to step up after Thielen had left the game with an injury.

The Vikings took advantage of Johnson's athleticism and put him in motion as he used his speed to dash into the end zone and haul in a 1-yard score.

"I knew I was going to have an opportunity to get the ball," Johnson said in October after he finished with four catches for 40 yards. "I was going to motion over … if it was man, they were going to have to send them back over the top when I came back underneath. I knew it from the start.

"I prepared myself during the week that if anything happened in the game," Johnson added. "I know I'm the next one up. It was just going out there and playing ball."

Johnson caught touchdown passes in both games against the division-rival Lions in 2019, and added another one on the road against the Chiefs.

2020 Outlook

Most players will tell you that they feel more confident both physically and mentally entering their second season in the league.

Johnson is no different, especially after seeing some extended playing time in 2019.

"It's slowed down a whole bunch, just understanding my role on the field, where I have to be and when I have to be there," Johnson said. "It's crazy going from Year 1 to Year 2 and how much of a difference it makes."

While Johnson endured an unusual offseason like everyone else, he stayed ready by working out with fellow NFL players back home in Colorado.

View photos of Vikings players from Verizon Vikings Training Camp practice at TCO Performance Center.

"It was a little different for me since this was my first offseason. I wasn't really sure what a normal NFL offseason looked like," Johnson said. "But I was actually back in Colorado training with a few of the Broncos. I got a pro-style quarterback to throw to me, so I was throwing with Drew Lock.

"Then there was competition at receiver, whether it was Courtland Sutton or Tim Patrick," Johnson added. "There were a lot of pro guys out there, which helped because you want to surround yourself with pro guys when you're training for the NFL. I think I definitely had an edge this offseason, for sure."

Now Johnson could be in line for an even bigger role in 2020 depending on how training camp shakes out.

There's no question that Thielen is the No. 1 wide receiver when healthy. Newcomers Justin Jefferson (2020 first-round pick) and Tajaé Sharpe (2020 free agent) are putting their best feet forward.

But the Vikings know what they have in Johnson — a trustworthy and reliable player — who has already earned the respect of his teammates and coaches.

And he's already spent a year in a Kubiak-style offense, showing he has the football smarts to line up at any receiver position, rather than just be pigeonholed into a specific spot.

The Vikings expect Johnson to take another step forward in 2020. So, too, does Thielen.

"It's fun to see his progression because I think being around him in the last week, he's excited to be back and you can just tell he's confident," Thielen said. "He knows that he's a good football player. He knows that he can be successful in this league and it shows.

"It's an exciting thing for me to see the rookies last year, now to see him progress into who he is now," Thielen added. "I'm excited to get back on the field with him because I think he's a special football player."