Under the radar: Washington

We're continuing with our under the radar series.

The idea is to pick out a player who is not a big name but who may be underrated. Or, at least, a guy who will need to step up and play a critical role in 2012.

We're going in reverse alphabetical order, mainly so Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times doesn't have time to trump us with one of his blog polls on Washington.

Washington: WR James Johnson

2011 production: Appeared in 11 of 13 games last year, starting four. Finished with 28 catches for 366 yards and four touchdowns.

Making the case for Johnson: I met James Johnson in 2007 and immediately recognized the potential. It was impossible not to. There are good high school football players, and then there are those head and shoulders above the competition. Johnson was one of those guys. I'd talked with him after games, among a sea of other reporters. But the first time I sat down with him in 2008, he said something that struck me -- "I have to believe that no one can cover me." I admired his confidence. And for the record, I can't recall a high school DB that could cover him. He still holds the San Diego Section record for most career receiving yards. He had swagger without being cocky.

Here's to hoping he still has that confidence, because after a long bout with high-ankle sprains, he's been Washington's forgotten receiver. People that follow the Huskies closely know the name. And he had two touchdowns against Nebraska last year. But the rest of the conference will probably say "Who?" after he catches touchdown after touchdown from Keith Price.

Johnson is under the radar because he hasn't put together a real body of work yet as a starter. He has the frame (6-1, 200 pounds) and the hands to be an elite receiver in the conference. And he has a quarterback who is on pace to put up record numbers. Those all combine for a potentially big year for Johnson. I know who he is. Most Washington fans do as well. This season, if he stays healthy, the rest of the conference is going to find out.

And if you want to know more about his background, check out this amazing piece by UW's Gregg Bell. It's an inspiring read.