INDIANAPOLIS – Tyler Johnson has opted against participating in Thursday night’s NFL scouting combine athletic tests at Lucas Oil Stadium, choosing to wait until the University of Minnesota’s pro day March 25 to record official times in drills like the 40-yard dash.
Johnson, the Gophers’ all-time leading receiver, said he’ll still go through positional drills, interviews and medical testing this week in Indianapolis. He’s “not concerned” about making NFL evaluators wait a month for his times, even as the decision wasn’t made lightly.
“Pretty difficult,” Johnson said Tuesday. “Because it’s a prime-time event, and I love to compete.”
Johnson, the north Minneapolis native who could become the first Gophers receiver drafted since Eric Decker in 2010, said he’s spent “quite some time” preparing for the 40-yard dash. His strength and production stood out for the Gophers, but Johnson’s official NFL.com draft profile lists “top-end speed” among weaknesses. Another month of prep is aimed at boosting times across all drills.
“I’m not where I want to be right now,” Johnson said. “With the testing, I’m still adjusting and everything. The different techniques, different forms, different angles and the small things like that.”
Among the many advising Johnson is Vikings receiver Adam Thielen. They share representation in the Minneapolis-based Institute For Athletes. They’ve worked out together this winter at Thielen’s gym in Lakeville, where the lessons came on and off the indoor turf.
“Just ‘be me,’ ” Johnson said. “That was important to him, and he felt it was best for me.”
General Manager Rick Spielman said the Vikings will meet with “most” representatives of the team’s 17 unrestricted free agents this week. Also on Spielman’s schedule is a meeting with Sunny Shah, the agent for cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who turns 30 in June after two subpar seasons.
Rhodes, set for a $12.9 million cap hit next fall on a contract through 2022, is one of a few high-priced veterans whose deals could be renegotiated ahead of free agency March 18. Or he could be cut.
“He maybe had not as great of a year as he’s had in the past, but he still helped us win games,” Spielman said. “You take each individual player and then assess where they’re at in their career and where they’re at financially, and then you make decisions.”
Cornerback “could be a need,” according to Spielman. Two corners, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander, are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents while Rhodes’ future is uncertain. This year’s draft class is considered deep at cornerback, but the team’s defined prototype can narrow draft options.
“It’s one of the hardest positions because of the rules that they’re allowed to get away with in college,” Spielman said. “And there are specific physical traits in order to play in [coach Mike Zimmer’s] defense that you have to have. That eliminates a lot of potential guys for us, too, because it’s pretty tailored.”
George Paton, the Vikings’ assistant general manager and coveted talent evaluator, declined the Browns’ general manager job last month after two interviews. Paton, who has been with the Vikings since 2007 and with Spielman even longer, has interviewed for three GM openings — Browns, Colts and 49ers — in the past three years.
“I’ve been relieved a lot of years,” Spielman said. “We’ve been together, I don’t know, maybe 24 years and I’m very fortunate that — one, the ownership group I work with, but also the talent that’s around me.”