Chargers wide receiver Quentin Johnston knows he's capable of more.
Johnston arrived in Los Angeles after being chosen with the No. 21 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, heralded as the kind of complementary weapon to Keenan Allen and playmaker for quarterback Justin Herbert's arsenal who could lift the Chargers' offense over the top.
But, by season's end, Johnston's rookie campaign was little more than a mixed bag.
Catching just 38 passes for 431 yards and a pair of touchdowns, the former TCU standout was also charged with three drops. But, with a breakout performance against the Denver Broncos that saw Johnston pull down three receptions for 91 yards, there's plenty of reason to believe that there are more big-plays to be had for the 22-year-old.
During a wide ranging conversation with FanBuzz, ahead of boarding the Pepsi Zero Sugar Born a Rookie, Return a Pro Carnival Cruise, which gives first-time cruisers the chance to set sail, Johnston says he has plenty more upside from a rookie year that was as much of a learning experience as anything.
"I'm glad I got that first season out of the way," Johnston admitted. "I feel like it was a great learning experience, for sure. The longest season I've had to this point. Going into this year, I definitely know what to expect"
There is always a learning curve and an adjustment for incoming NFL players. From a 17-game regular season to the complexity of learning a new offensive system, or even just figuring out a niche in a respective position group, sometimes even the most heralded of prospects take time to develop.
"I thought I did going into last season," Johnston says. "But, I have a better understanding right now. Just taking the wins, the losses, the ups and downs, from last season and being mindful of that throughout my training and throughout next year and elevating and breaking out next season."
One massive reason for Johnston and the Chargers to be optimistic that the 2024 season will be more prolific for the former first-round pick, is it will be a second season catching passes from one of the game's premier quarterbacks, Justin Herbert.
"Honestly, just stacking days," Johnston says is the biggest key to building chemistry with Herbert. "We'll obviously get some passes in during practice, but getting together after practice and just going up to him and asking 'what routes do you still need to go over, or that we messed up on in practice?' and we'd keep going through those routes until I get it right, or he feels comfortable with those throws."
Herbert enters next season with something to prove, as well, coming off a 3,134 yard season with 20 touchdowns to seven interceptions prior to suffering a broken finger that ended his season in Week 13. But, Johnston says it's easy to see what makes Herbert special.
"The God-given abilities, right off," Johnston said of Herbert. "He's tall, he has long arms, great thrower of the football. He's been that way since everybody can remember. Just how dynamic he is. He can run, he has very deceptive speed.
"His accuracy, and I've seen him place some of those throws in the tightest windows, I couldn't do it, obviously. Watching him play, even my first few days of training camp, it was amazing to see and just made me even more excited to be playing with him."
FanBuzz: What was it like to see the news that Jim Harbaugh was taking the Chargers' head coaching job, and what do you expect from him as your coach?
Quentin Johnston: "I'm very excited. My phone was blowing up right after that. I saw it on TV, and then a few days after that, she shot me a text, and we jumped on a call ... just chopped it up, and one of those conversations included when we played last year [in the College Football Playoff], I was happy about that. But, it was all fun. Definitely was cool to talk to him, congratulate him on the season he just had, and how excited I am to be playing for him."
FanBuzz: You've had a front row seat for two games against Patrick Mahomes, what makes him such a generational talent and separates him from the rest of the quarterbacks in this league?
Johnston: "Just some of the throws that he makes, I mean, it's getting ridiculous. He's always in positions where it's like nobody can come back from that, or can make that throw, he'll be falling and somehow make a throw or look like he's going to be sacked in the pocket but come out of it. It's plays like that, once people get used to that and say to yourself 'that's just Patrick, nobody else can do that,' that's when you realize you're on a different level. It's always exciting to watch him, and now I get to play against him."
FanBuzz: How do the Chargers close the gap on Kansas City? You have a lot going for you guys; another season for Justin Herbert, Jim Harbaugh's coming in, and you'll be playing a last-place schedule ... How do you guys make a run in the AFC West and maybe more than that?
Johnston: "Just rebuilding. With the new coach, getting a spot-on coaching staff, and at the end of the day you have to believe in each other. You have to have the trust in the guys you have in the room, and I feel like we have a good set of guys who can beat anyone else in the league."
FanBuzz: Who's the best wide receiver in the league today, who you pattern your game after and try to emulate?
Johnston: "At this point, I'm pretty biased, but I'm going with Keenan Allen. Coming in, he's taught me a lot and helped me grow a lot, as a person and as an NFL football player, not just a football player. That's a big difference, for sure.
"He taught me how to act off the field, as far as buliding a routine for myself, and I feel like in the NFL, that's very important ... as far as rehab, pre-hab, nutritional stuff, film-study, not just watching film but looking for certain things on the film. And then, on the field, Keenan's a great route runner, certain routes don't always have to be full-speed.
"Coming in, I used to put my head down and just run everything at full-speed. But, just sitting back and reading the defense and running tempo, speeding the route up and then breaking it down here or there, I feel like with all that information he gave me, he's one of my favorite players."
FanBuzz: So, tell me about this Cruise. I know you're a rookie cruiser, so what's the one cruise experience you want to return a pro at by the time you guys make it back to port?
Johnston: "I want to try all the different restaurants on the boat, and I want to walk around and meet everyone, being the life of the party with everybody who's there."
Quentin Johnston spoke to FanBuzz on behalf of the Pepsi Zero Sugar Board a Rookie, Return a Pro Carnival Cruise. From now through February 11, fans can visit PepsieRookieCruise.com to enter the sweepstakes for a chance to win their first cruise getaway and become pro Carnival cruisers.
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