GREEN BAY, Wis. — It didn’t take long for Charles Johnson to discover an early similarity between the start of his career with the Green Bay Packers and that of the franchise’s all-time leading receiver Donald Driver.
Fourteen years ago, Driver was drafted in the seventh round by the Packers. Now, just as Driver exits Green Bay with a key to the city and a street named after him, Johnson enters as a wide-eyed seventh-round pick hoping to one day be remembered in the same way.
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“It wouldn’t be bad to be the next Donald Driver,” Johnson said the first time he stepped in the Packers locker room.
That’s quite an understatement from Johnson, a 24-year-old who ran a 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds and recorded a 39 1/2-inch vertical jump at his Pro Day.
Becoming the next Driver is an admirable goal for any young Packers wide receiver to want to achieve. It’s certainly far-fetched and unlikely, but Johnson is up for the challenge.
“No matter if you’re (drafted in) the first round or a tryout guy, you’re here and given an opportunity,” Johnson said. “Take full advantage of it and good things will come to you if you work hard.”
Like Driver, Johnson came from a small college. Johnson began at Eastern Kentucky before transferring to Antelope Valley Community College and ultimately finishing up with two years at Grand Valley State.
Going from a Division II school to the NFL won’t be an easy transition for Johnson, but he’s confident he has the talent and receiving skills to make it work.
“People question like, ‘he hasn’t run many routes at Grand Valley,'” Johnson said. “I mean, yeah, but I was running a lot of routes when I was in my true freshman year at Eastern Kentucky and everything. I ran a lot of routes there. I run a lot of routes on my own.
“I think I have a complete game. I’m going to still keep working; keep working to sharpen up those techniques and everything.”
Johnson got his first small taste of the spotlight after word of his Pro Day results began to spread across the league. That was enough to propel Johnson from potentially going undrafted to being mentioned as a possible fourth-round pick. With a shift in expectations happening in literally a matter of seconds as Johnson showed off his elite-level speed that day, it would be fair to describe his being selected in the seventh round as a bit of a draft-day slide.
Once Johnson arrived in Green Bay, though, he was greeted by a large group of reporters that rivaled in number what a typical Driver locker room interview availability would draw. And Johnson loved it.
“There’s a lot of cameras in my face,” Johnson said. “It’s exciting. I’m glad you guys want to talk to me and see what I have to say. I hope I can do a lot more of these. I like being in front of the camera.”
Driver was obviously no stranger to the camera by the time his 14-year NFL career was over. While Johnson has a ways to go before he starts getting calls from “Dancing with the Stars,” he’s not the type to shy away from attention.
By Johnson’s account, there were only around 16,000 people at his team’s home games at Grand Valley State. That’s 64,000 fewer fans than he’ll see the first time he steps out onto Lambeau Field.
Of course, all of this is new to Johnson. He’s not even taken part in his first NFL training camp and will be, at best, the Packers’ No. 4 receiver this upcoming season. That’s assuming he’s able to beat out Jarrett Boykin and fellow seventh-round pick Kevin Dorsey for that spot. Driver started at the bottom, too, catching only three passes for 31 yards as a rookie in 1999.
Statistics like that are helping Johnson keep it all in perspective as he prepares for what he hopes is a long, successful career in Green Bay.
“When I talked to my agent, I told everybody Green Bay was one of the places I really enjoyed,” Johnson said. “He said, ‘it’d be a great fit for you to have established guys with those guys you can learn from, and you have the best quarterback and this is an organization that grows receivers.’ So this was a great fit for me.”
Johnson won’t be seeing the players he’s spent the last several years competing against anymore. The competition level always jumps up from college to the NFL, but that is even more true with Johnson coming from the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
But that drastic change didn’t stop Driver when he left Alcorn State for the NFL and Johnson doesn’t think it will stop him either.
“I didn’t play with the best of the best athletes, but I’m ready to go out and compete,” Johnson said. “Just because I’m from a smaller division doesn’t mean I can’t compete.”