Charles Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers.
The first wide receiver taken in the draft, Johnson is the one rookie in this assemblage with a chance to help take his team to the Super Bowl. The Steelers have been a playoff team each of the past two seasons, and they've done so without the benefit of a deep threat to complement All-Pro tight end Eric Green. Johnson, the 1993 Big Eight offensive player of the year for Colorado, gives Pittsburgh a bombs-away dream baby for the first time since Louis Lipps was drafted in 1984.
"When we picked him, the first words out of people's mouths were Lynn Swann and John Stallworth," says first-year wide receiver coach Chan Gailey. But coach Bill Cowher demurs. "That's not fair to Johnson, and it's not fair to Swann and Stall-worth either," he says. "They became great over a period of years. Charles doesn't have to be a star right away. He just has to contribute. He's not a savior, and we're not looking for one."
Johnson has proved that he can catch the ball over the middle. But he has really earned the respect of his teammates by simply surviving to this point in his life. Johnson's mother was a drug addict, generally oblivious to the needs of her children. As a teenager in California. Johnson lived in 15 different places in San Bernardino County and was even homeless for a spell. As a high school sophomore he tried to commit suicide but was saved by his younger sister, Christine. He saw no future for himself. Football helped change that, and Johnson wound up earning an undergraduate degree in marketing from Colorado. Says Cowher, "Here's a kid who has dealt with a lot of adversity early on in life. His demeanor has allowed him to deal with all the challenges that are put on first-round draft picks."
"I wouldn't want to be in [Faulk's] shoes," says Johnson, who signed a five-year deal for $4.6 million, including his signing bonus. "With all the money and hype, you're being set up to fail. Here, the veterans have made me feel real comfortable. I'm doing a lot of learning with really no pressure. Coming in and being a star right away in the NFL would be a tough, tough thing to handle."
Maybe, maybe not. But chances are that Johnson and the rest of this magnificent six are about to find out.