To continue with my colleague Max, the NFL Draft is around the corner and this year the anticipation feels greater with the climate that Covid-19 has brought to our society. A hobby of mine since I was young kid was to scout incoming prospects, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
First prospect I would like to break down for y’all is Jaylon Johnson, the corner back out of the University of Utah. Johnson stands at an even 6′ and weighed in at 193 pounds at the NFL combine. The Fresno native decided to forgo his senior season and declare for the NFL draft after earning second-team All-American honors and first-team All-Pac-12 honors his junior year.
Corner back is a position of priority in the current landscape of the NFL with the league’s rules favoring offenses and wide receivers. It also happens to be one of the positions that sees one of the higher burnout rates. Much like running backs, elite corners don’t particularly last for a long time in the NFL. In recent years, we can look at the falls of Joshua Norman, Vontae Davis and Nnamdi Asomugha for the shelf life of an elite corner. What this means is that NFL teams are constantly looking for new young corners year in and year out to be apart of their defense.
Enter Johnson. While his numbers may not blow you away (7 career interceptions, 21 career pass deflections), put on his game film and I see a an elite corner in the making. He was asked to play many different coverages while at Utah but his strength is playing up at the line of scrimmage. While he is not the most physical re-router, his footwork alone provides a big enough challenge for receivers to get around. Check out this play on the goal line.
Johnson never bites on the receiver’s fake inside release and maintains outside leverage. Everyone in the stadium knows that fade route is coming and Johnson is well-prepared for it and almost comes away with the interception.
Check out this play right here as Utah runs a Cover 0, no safety over the top.
As a boundary corner, if you have zero help inside you best believe you are doing all you can to force the receiver towards the sideline. Here, Johnson does a good job of maintaining inside leverage and once he gets his hands on the receiver, he forcefully re-routes him and pushes him towards the sideline giving an impossible window for the quarterback to throw into.
Now a lot of the times the knock on guys who play up on the line of scrimmage is that their footwork isn’t great and they have trouble breaking on the ball in off-coverage. Not the case for Johnson, check out how clean his footwork here is on this out-breaking route.
See how clean Johnson is on that break. No wasted movement as the corner is able to plant and change direction in just one step out of his backpedal. He does a nice job of baiting Easom too. If he’s tighter to the receiver on the top of that route, the quarterback probably doesn’t throw that ball. Elite level stuff there by Johnson.
Johnson isn’t the most perfect prospect at the corner position. He does get caught staring too long at the quarterback, he doesn’t have the elite make-up speed if he gets caught on a double-move nor is he the most sure of tacklers in the run game (most corners aren’t). But, Johnson did go toe-to-toe with the best receivers of the PAC-12 and most of the times he came out victorious.
He held a scorching hot Brandon Aiyuk to one reception for seven yards after the receiver had a three-touchdown performance the week prior. The week before, Johnson held Oregon State standout Isaiah Hodgins to eight receptions and 77 yards after Hodghins put up 20 receptions, 285 yards and four touchdowns the previous two weeks.
My NFL comparison for Johnson is Vontae Davis. A couple years ago, Davis took the league by storm thanks to his play from 2014-2016. Davis had been in the league for five years before he broke out as a Pro-Bowler. Johnson may not need that much time to become a house hold name at the next level.
Right now, Johnson is projected to get drafted in the second or third round. If the corner falls to an NFL team that runs a lot of zone coverage ( Cover-4, Cover-3) like the San Francisco 49ers, Minnesota Vikings, Carolina Panthers or Seattle Seahawks, expect @NBAxJay1 to make a lot of plays at the next level.