Chargers WR Quentin Johnston not changing expectations in year two

ByKris Rhim ESPN logo
Wednesday, June 5, 2024

LOS ANGELES -- After an inconsistent rookie season, Los Angeles Chargers 2023 first-round receiver Quentin Johnston said Tuesday that his "expectations never changed," and he anticipates being a more consistent player in 2024.

"Even through the bad games I had last year, I was never like, 'Maybe I can't do it,'" Johnston said, "because at the end of the day I still hold myself to a high standard and feel like I'm not here for no reason."

Johnston had his lowest moment of the season in Week 11 against the Green Bay Packers. He dropped a wide-open pass that would have put the Chargers in field-goal range with 23 seconds left in the game. The Packers won, 23-20, and the Chargers fell to 4-6.

Johnston was visibly upset after the game in the locker room. He said he often thinks about that drop when he lacks motivation.

"I watched it a few times. It wasn't nothing I was really just trying to have my eyes on," Johnston said, "but it's like, 'Yo, let me go back and feel what I felt right then so I could continue to work hard.'"

Johnston was the second receiver selected among the four that were taken in the first round of the 2023 NFL draft. His career began differently than any of his first-round peers, however, as the Chargers already had two $20 million receivers in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. The Chargers' plan was to ease Johnston into his first season, hoping he'd be ready for a more prominent role in his second season.

But injuries moved Johnston to the forefront early on. Williams tore his ACL in Week 3 against the Minnesota Vikings, Allen missed the final four games with a heel injury, and Joshua Palmer missed seven games with a knee sprain and concussion.

With the increased opportunity, Johnston's play fluctuated. His best moment was, perhaps, on a 56-yard catch from Easton Stick in a Week 14 game against the Denver Broncos. But Johnston's drops were the theme of his season. The drop against Green Bay was the most notable, but there was another significant one on a third down against the New England Patriots in Week 13 and another on a second down against the Detroit Lions in Week 10.

His 6% drop rate was the highest of any rookie with at least 50 targets, and his four drops tied for the fourth-highest among rookies.

Johnston attributes those drops to a lack of concentration.

"Literally every single one of my drops last year, it was like, 'OK, I see the ball, I'm looking to run up field and I'm taking my eyes off it,'" Johnston said. "Obviously, you can't catch something you can't see."

Johnston finished last season with 38 receptions for 431 yards, which was 15th among rookie receivers.

Wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal said that it's not fair to look back at last season and judge Johnston because he wasn't coaching him. Lal, who came to the Chargers after having the same role with the Seattle Seahawks, said that Johnston moves as well as any receiver he has coached and believes coaching him with great detail will unlock his potential.

"He's got a lot of juice," Lal said. "He almost bounds when he runs. Working on his body positioning is one of the biggest things we've done. He's really improved some of his stop-type routes by keeping his shoulders over his feet longer and not looking early. So that's a big jump he's made so far."

Johnston is one of three receivers returning from last season as the Chargers overhauled their offense with the arrival of Coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Joe Hortiz. Johnston said that he feels more confident and "ready for it" this season, and admitted that his nerves often got the best of him as a rookie.

Some of Johsnton's teammates have already noticed a difference in him.

"He's a lot more mature," Palmer said. "In terms of knowing how to do things that he might not have known how to do before and he's just a lot more critical of himself."