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Juwan Johnson's evolution from undrafted receiver to valuable tight end results in contract extension with New Orleans Saints

Had team-leading seven touchdown receptions last season

Check out photos of New Orleans Saints tight end Juwan Johnson in action throughout the 2022 season.
Check out photos of New Orleans Saints tight end Juwan Johnson in action throughout the 2022 season.

First, no NFL team drafted Juwan Johnson in 2020. Then, the New Orleans Saints, who signed him as an undrafted rookie, told him his best chance to get on the field was to change positions, from receiver to tight end.

Now? It's worked out well enough that Johnson, who led the Saints with seven receiving touchdowns in 2022, agreed to terms on a two-year contract extension this offseason.

"(The extension) was everything," Johnson said. "The journey that I went through, being undrafted you kind of feel like a leftover in a way. No one picks you up.

"The best thing about God, He always intercedes in the right way. Whenever I felt like nothing, he made me feel like something. That was kind of the biggest thing for me. Just being undrafted, going through what I went through, changing positions and playing to get it done. It was really good, now it's really time to work."

Work hasn't been an issue for Johnson, who went from a 231-pound receiver who caught four passes for 39 yards and spent part of the season on the practice squad, to a 250-pound tight end who started 12 of 16 games and caught 42 passes for 508 yards.

"The thing about me, I've got the biggest chip on my shoulder," he said. "You've got to think about the top guys, just talking about the draft. Every top guy you see at the tight end position is drafted.

"You see (Travis) Kelce (of Kansas City), (George) Kittle (of San Francisco), T.J. (Hockenson of Minnesota), Mark Andrews (of Baltimore), Darren Waller (of the Giants) – all those guys are drafted. And so I'm coming in with the biggest chip because I'm a guy that's undrafted, and I'm trying to get my name in there.

"I still will have the biggest chip on my shoulder just because I wasn't drafted and nobody wanted to take a chance on me (in the draft). The Saints did, luckily, after everything was done (with the draft)."

Johnson had to refine his blocking technique as a tight end, and doesn't want to be pigeonholed into the label of "receiving" tight end.

"The game changes," he said. "Just think of (Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end) Shannon Sharpe. I'm not saying he didn't block, but he was pass catching. So the game has changed but at the end of the day, you're called a tight end. Whether that's blocking or catching or whatever it is, I just want to go down knowing that I was one of the best tight ends in the league."

After a start that wasn't quite a fairytale beginning, he has the opportunity to make the ending exactly what he wants it to be, thanks in part to his support system.

"I would say my wife (Chanen) has gotten me through," he said. "Just her being there for me, because there were definitely some rough times, definitely times where I'm just like, 'This is tough. This is really hard.'

"My first year, I didn't really play much, I was on practice squad and then getting signed. And, 'I want more.' And so I'm on the field just on passing routes (the second year), I'm like, 'I want more.' So then next year, I'm in running and passing. I'm happy where I'm at, but I'm not content. I want more than what's given to me and that's going to come with work and putting the work in.

"They've invested in me now. Now it's like, all right, I need to be doing more with this. And not even that, I'm doing this game for fun. We get paid to do something like this. This is something I've been doing since I was a kid, and I get paid for it? So it's really just doing it for the love of the game, but also like, not pressure, but also like we're giving you something, what can you do with it?"

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