Seems like everywhere you look the Chargers are mocked to be taking a safety with the #7 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Sure, there are some here and there that will differ, but the majority seem to have landed on Malik Hooker or, to a lesser extent, Jamal Adams as the de facto selection. I even said so myself in the staff post a few weeks ago that I felt they would end up going safety in the first round. While I still think this could be the case, I’d like to explore an option out there in day 2 to early day 3 range should the team look elsewhere in the first.
Who Is He?
Senior John Johnson from Boston College is a safety who seems to be flying a bit under the radar in a very good 2017 class. The one-time CB has played in 35 games over his four seasons in Boston. He did miss some time in his sophomore year due to an arm injury but was able to return before the team made their bowl game appearance and played the last two years injury free. Johnson had a very successful 2016 season totaling 77 tackles (2.5 for loss), 3 INT’s and 9 passes defended. He spent the 2016 season in the Free Safety role, however he played Strong Safety in 2015 and Cornerback in his first two seasons.
Where Does He Win?
Johnson appeared to really come in to his own in 2016 when he was moved to the Free Safety role. His biggest strength would be his coverage skills, enough so that he was trusted to cover slot wideouts many times and would do so effectively. He stays patient with guys, letting them get in to their route before making his move (not getting lost in the fakes/deception) so even if his man makes the catch he is in position to take him down for a minimal gain. When playing in the high safety role, he regularly would come downhill and make plays on guys at the catch point or in run support.
You will also see in the last clip above that he knows to look for the ball in the air and make a play on it when he has the chance. He knows to use the sideline as an extra defender and take the correct routes to bring the ball carrier to the ground.
He put up some solid numbers at the combine in a few areas, namely his vertical jump (37.0 inches, 4th among safeties), three cone drill (6.72, 2nd among safeties) and 20 yard shuttle (4.18, 4th among safeties).
His tackling, while not a hard hitter by any means, is effective and rarely did I see him miss tackles in the games I reviewed. Speaking of, one of his other best skills is his strength in the return game. He had 30 tackles on special teams coverage in his final three seasons. In the below clip, you will see this as well as some excellent tackling both at the catch point as well as pursuit when the play goes outside.
One more clip only because it was probably his best game as a collegiate, he shows again his abilities on special teams to bring down the return man. You can also see another example of his coverage skills and his awareness to get his hand in between the receivers’ to dislodge the ball in a clutch situation at the goal line. In the last segment you can see he is in perfect coverage should the QB look his direction.
Where Does He Need Work?
There is a reason John Johnson isn’t going to be found in many top 5 safety lists as he is far from a perfect safety prospect. His biggest issue, in my opinion, is his lack of top end speed. He showed this at the combine by running a 4.61 forty yard dash, ranking 15th (last on NFL.com’s list). This shows itself when he has to stay with a guy throughout the length of the route and not just be the safety net at the single high position.
He has struggled some with multiple moves, especially when a QB has to hold on to the ball for a little while. This isn’t something every safety can do, of course, but he can get a bit lost when the play breaks down.
While not something that made him miss tackles necessarily, he can also struggle with keeping his feet moving through the tackle and lowering his head when closing in on run support. Didn’t happen often, but when it did it was ugly.
His diagnosing seems to be at its best when he can do so from the free safety role as he can be washed out easily when he plays too closely to the line of scrimmage. Because he likely will be limited in that sense, this also will play a role in him being taken later than some of his other traits dictate he should.
How Does He Fit As a Charger?
John Johnson would be a wonderful addition to a safety group that needs a real free safety to come in and take a strangle-hold on the spot. Currently being held down by Dwight Lowery on a short term basis, there isn’t much on the roster beyond him (which isn’t saying much...) should he be injured or just going forward in the future. He would likely be an immediate major impact on special teams (Stuckey, anyone?) with the upside of having a growing role on the defense. Potentially allowing the team to separate from Stuckey and having an option at FS would benefit the team much more than his likely draft position would lead you to believe, making him a high value selection.
There are comp’s out there to both Micah Hyde and Aaron Williams, both very capable starters in the NFL. Should the Chargers choose to not go safety in the first round, I feel he would be a great selection if you can get him at the top of the fourth round.