Former TCU star Quentin Johnston eager to prove doubters wrong in his second NFL season

After his breakout season helped TCU reach the national title game in 2023, former Horned Frogs star Quentin Johnston had to feel like he was destined for stardom at the next level.

After being named a first team All-Big 12 receiver, Johnston was selected with the No. 21 pick in last year’s NFL draft by the Los Angeles Chargers. For a rookie receiver who spent all of his life in Texas, there weren’t many better situations he could’ve landed in.

He moved to Los Angeles with teammates like Derius Davis, Max Duggan, Steve Avila and Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, who were all drafted by the Chargers and Rams. He also had a franchise quarterback waiting for him in Justin Herbert and two mentors in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams that should’ve made the learning curve easier to manage.

But as many NFL rookies have learned, the jump from college star to the pros isn’t easy and Johnston had his fair share of struggles as he finished with just 431 yards and two touchdowns in an underwhelming rookie season. The Chargers went from a playoff team at 10-7 to 5-12 and firing their head coach. Johnston, whonreturned back to Fort Worth on Monday to check out TCU practice, spoke about the ups and downs of his first season.

“It was definitely a learning experience,” Johnston said. “It was a process going through the ins and outs of being a NFL player and just life outside of the facility. Overall, I still think it was a great experience and I’m looking forward to next season.“

Johnston is hopeful the adversity will help him have a breakout season next year. He struggled with drops as a rookie as he caught just 56 percent of his targets, last on the team by receivers with at least 40 targets. His struggles were only magnified by the fact Williams missed most of the season.

Johnston remembers the moment he realized he was playing against a totally different level of competition.

“There were two games,” Johnston said. “One game we were playing the New York Jets and I was going against Sauce Gardner and then we played the Broncos and it was Pat Surtain. Those are two guys that are bigger defensive backs with real patience and real skill. That showed me a lot about what I need to do to be ready the next time I face them.”

Even with the Chargers not being one of the most popular franchises, Johnston’s struggles became a bit of a talking point on social media at different points of the season with him being compared to other rookies that excelled like the Rams’ Puka Nacua or the Houston TexansTank Dell.

The level of media scrutiny was new for Johnston, but he’s handled the detractors the same way he’s handled most things; with a cool, calm demeanor.

“There’s a lot more media attention,” Johnston acknowledged. “I’m real eager to (prove the doubters wrong) and get back on the field. The media, that’s honestly their job and a lot of people on (social) media are just on the couch and don’t have anything to do all day but go around joking about it.

“It’s always funny when it’s about somebody else and not about you, it comes with the territory. I’m not too mad about it, I don’t be on social media like that anyways. But I feel like with my next chance I’m going to show out.”

One reason for the confidence is the new era the Chargers are undergoing as the franchise hired former Michigan coach John Harbaugh after he led the Wolverines to a national championship in January.

It’s not just a new coach, both Allen and Williams left this off-season for the Chicago Bears and New York Jets. The Chargers will be in position to draft Marvin Harrison Jr., Malik Nabers or Brock Bowers in the draft with the No. 5 pick, but would it really surprise anybody to see Harbaugh trade down to jump start the Chargers’ rebuild with more offensive linemen?

Regardless of when they take another rookie receiver, the pressure will be on Johnston, who faces a pivotal season along with Herbert. Johnston’s relying on the lessons he learned from Allen and Williams to prepare himself for the moment.

“They’ve been vets since I was almost in middle school,” Johnston said. “They poured in a lot to me, especially when I first got there. There was a lot of talking, a lot of uplifting, a lot of fellowship outside the field. Going into this year, I’m just taking what they gave me and what I learned from them to be a better player than I was last year.”