Xavier Johnson Didn’t Dwell on Combine Snub, Confident He Can Overcome Odds Again As He Chases NFL Dream

By Dan Hope on April 21, 2024 at 8:38 am
Xavier Johnson
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch/USA TODAY Network

Among the nine members of last year’s Ohio State football team who are now pursuing NFL careers, Xavier Johnson was the only one not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine.

Johnson could have had reason to feel snubbed. While he never put up huge numbers for the Buckeyes, he performed well in every role he was deployed in at Ohio State, where he played both wide receiver and running back and led all Buckeyes in special teams snaps played in each of the past two seasons.

He possesses NFL-caliber athleticism at 6-foot-1 and 202 pounds and has plenty of believers in his pro potential among his former Ohio State teammates and coaches.

“I'm very surprised about that, to be honest with you,” said former Ohio State tight end Cade Stover when asked if he was surprised Johnson didn’t get invited to the combine. “But then again, he's the kind of guy that he's gonna defy all odds no matter what. The kid's gonna get on a team and he's gonna do well and he's gonna play for a long time.”

Having to overcome the odds is nothing new for Johnson, who started his Ohio State career as a walk-on yet ended it as a team captain and a vital role player for the Buckeyes. That’s the perspective he’s kept as he’s gone through the draft process, particularly when he found out he wouldn’t be going to the combine.

“For me, it's been the situation my entire life where I've just been in an uphill battle. And I think the Lord puts things in front of you and allows you to show how much you actually trust him,” Johnson said after Ohio State’s pro day. “So for me, it wasn't a situation where I shied away or I tucked my tail, got down in the dumps. It's like, ‘OK, I just gotta work harder. I gotta continue to trust him.’ And it was an opportunity for me to really put my money where my mouth is.”

Johnson hasn’t appeared in many mock drafts leading up to the NFL draft, but he said at Ohio State’s pro day that he had talked to at least 27 of the league’s 32 teams during the pre-draft process. He participated in the Hula Bowl, went through a full workout at OSU’s pro day and got an additional opportunity to impress his hometown NFL team last week when he participated in the Cincinnati Bengals’ local pro day on Tuesday alongside fellow Ohio State draft hopefuls Josh Proctor, Steele Chambers, Matt Jones and Miyan Williams.

Just going through the draft process has been “surreal” for Johnson, he said, as the dream he has had since early childhood is now within reach.

“From a little kid, I wanted to play football at the professional level since I was five years old,” Johnson said. “I started playing football when I was five, never missed a season. So it’s been the love of my life for the last 19 years. So to look back on that little kid out there practicing with my older brother, getting his drills and different things like that, fast forwarding all the way to this point, this process has been surreal. It’s been nothing short of a blessing.”

Hearing his name called as one of the 257 picks in this week’s draft is part of that dream, but Johnson knows from experience that all he needs to prove his worth is an opportunity. There are plenty of examples throughout the NFL of players who have succeeded despite going undrafted, and Johnson is confident in his ability to follow that path if he has to.

“He's the kind of guy that he's gonna defy all odds no matter what. The kid's gonna get on a team and he's gonna do well and he's gonna play for a long time.”– Cade Stover on Xavier Johnson

While Johnson worked out at pro day as a wide receiver, which he views as his best position, he feels he can naturally transition back to running back if needed. And he’s happy to play any role an NFL team wants him to play.

“I think my main thing is when I walk in that door, I’m gonna be ready to do anything and everything from special teams to playing on that first day as a receiver, playing as a running back,” Johnson said. “If they tell me that they need me to kick, then I’m gonna be out there kicking for six hours a day to try to figure it out. So I’m just gonna put my best foot forward. Like I said, I’m gonna glorify the Lord first and foremost, try to show that I’m an accountable young man and look up at the end of my career, just like when I did got here, and I think I’m gonna be happy with my results.”

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