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Shrine Bowl Interview: Michigan WR Cornelius Johnson Could Bring Size And Winning Pedigree To Pittsburgh WR Room


While wide receiver was a strong position group at the 2024 East-West Shrine Bowl with names like Malik Washington, Isaiah Williams and Tahj Washington, Michigan WR Cornelius Johnson (6022, 213) was one of the best. Johnson has a combination of size and route running that I thought was unmatched by anyone else throughout the week of practice.

While Johnson had just 604 yards and one touchdown this year for Michigan, he’s been a huge part of that program over the past few years. He’s helped lead them to back-to-back undefeated regular seasons in 2022 and 2023, as well as a National Championship this season.

“That was crazy, the way it played out,” Johnson told me in an interview. ”Because we’ve been talking the whole year about working towards that goal. A lot was accomplished this year for Michigan football. It’s not gonna be the same after this. To be able to go out like that, you can’t ask for it any other way”.

Though Johnson had just three catches for 25 yards in the National Championship game, Michigan only completed ten passes as a team. They’ve been built around the run for as long as Johnson has been there, causing his statistics to not look as good as they otherwise would have in a different scheme.

Despite this scheme, however, Johnson is no stranger to having big-time statistical games in important moments. Perhaps his most impressive is in 2022 when undefeated #3 Michigan traveled to undefeated #2 Ohio State and picked up a 45-23 win. Johnson ended that game with four receptions for 160 yards and two touchdowns, including one from 69 yards out.

“That was really fun.” Johnson recalled. “Because that was different. We’ve played them at our place, but playing them at their place is like the ultimate challenge. Especially going to Michigan, there’s nothing else you can imagine rather than playing at their stadium, in that moment… game of the century. To be able to do that and to contribute to help the team win, meant a lot to me for sure.”

For the Steelers, Johnson offers an interesting option, especially in the new Arthur Smith offense where there’s a huge focus on blocking from the wide receivers. While the Steelers likely won’t run the ball quite as much as Michigan did, it’s nice that Johnson has some experience in that type of offense, and he certainly has the physical profile to be an effective blocker in the NFL.

Johnson didn’t just use that physicality as a blocker in college, however. He led the nation with an 82% contested catch rate per PFF. Check out this play from the Shrine Bowl practices, where Johnson came down with a tough catch in the endzone and also drew a flag.

With Diontae Johnson potentially being a free agent after next season, it would make sense for the Steelers to bring in some youth to attempt to develop for a year behind him, especially if they aren’t 100% committed to bringing him back. Cornelius Johnson is a big, athletic receiver with a lot of upside compared to where he will likely be taken in the draft, which fits the traditional Steelers mold.

I was also talking to Johnson about his middle school football team, the Riverside Gators. I had only heard stories about how the legendary squad held opponents scoreless all season and wanted to ask Johnson his recollection of those games.

“One of [my best football memories] was that one year.” Johnson remembered. “We didn’t give up a point, not even one, like, not even a field goal. That’s hilarious to think about. We were so young too. I was probably 10, 11, 12 years old. Not allowing one point is just funny to me. And we ended up winning the championship. That was a fun team. There was one team that got inside the 10 and then I caught a pick. That’s the closest they got. One time, someone had a breakaway run and I chased them down. It makes you remember, you see the footage. It’s funny stuff like that.”

It seems that even since middle school, Johnson has done nothing but win. If he gets drafted to the Steelers, we can only hope he keeps it up.

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