NAME: Lonnie Johnson Jr.
JERSEY: No. 6
RECRUITMENT RATING: 4-star
WT: 206 lbs
Vertical Coverage – From press or off alignment, immediately retreats off the snap to create massive cushion. Gives up a ton of underneath receptions, but hard to get by him deep when he’s in off coverage. Has the speed to turn and run with receivers, but will give up hip-to-hip separation and struggle to stay in phase, even with his back to the ball. As a result, often out of position to defend the catch point. Flips to get downfield too early, giving up his blind spots freely for a receiver to break off their pattern into an in-breaking vertical route (post/dig/bang 8).
Fluidity/Agility – Footwork and balance concerns don’t help, but even when the conditions are right, Johnson is stiff in the hips and struggles to mirror receivers on out or in-breaking patterns. Lacks the fluidity to turn tight corners with receivers who break hard, and can be maneuvered around post-catch when he stops his feet. Transitions are wild and unpredictable in off-coverage, body control isn’t where it needs to be.
Ball Skills – 9 passes defensed and 1 interception in two years at Kentucky. That pick came on a broken play duck by Trace McSorley in Johnson’s last collegiate game, although he did well to get up and high-point the ball. Length and leaping ability allow him to be competitive at the catch point. Doesn’t have the instincts or closing speed to make a lot of plays on the ball, gives up too much separation to have ideal positioning for picks or PBUs. Won’t find the ball with his back to it.
Click-and-Close – Poor body control and sloppy with the direction of his hips in zone coverage, which limits his ability to close quickly. Feet are all over the place and transitions are slow as a result. Allows underneath throws to be completed consistently, rarely contesting the window unless in goal-to-go situations.
Press Ability – Absolute mess in press position. Most reps look like he has never been coached up on technique at all. Carries his hands straight down at his sides, leaving them with a long way to go to get to his opponent’s chest. Stabs late and on his heels, often with the wrong hand. Forces himself into recovery mode constantly by failing to land hands or landing them too late to be effective. Often targeted too high and was guilty of illegal hands to the face. Completely whiffs or doesn’t use his hands at all at other times, allowing receivers to run by him (D.K. Metcalf 2017). Has salivating physical tools, but needs tremendous amount of work.
Route Recognition – Purely a see it, hit it type of player. Very little instinct or feel and his game is almost entirely reactionary rather than proactive. Mental processing is slow in large part because his eyes are all over the place in coverage and in run defense. One thing he does ID and attack pretty well: receiver screen concepts.
Tackling – Has lowered the boom for big hits with perfect technique at times, but struggles to do so consistently. Comes in hesitant on head-up attempts, opting to latch onto oncoming runners from the side rather than meet them head on. Business decisions litter the tape.
Run Support – Not anxious to get into the thick of things around the box, failing to commit to a couple important stops against Georgia, among other examples. On the perimeter is a bit more willing, at times even turning runs back inside by leveraging outside his receiver. Will give up contain on the edge as well, stopping his feet as a tackler and getting out-maneuvered to the perimeter. Recognition can be slow as well, needs to find the ball faster with his eyes.
Competitive Toughness – Moments of extreme chirpiness and physicality followed by head-scratching low-effort reps. Can be a shoddy tackler at times and it looks like a desire thing. Does talk trash and appears to have no shortage of confidence in himself.
Athleticism/Size – Elite size and length for a cornerback prospect. May need to add some bulk, but not frail by any stretch of the imagination. Rumored to be an elite athlete who will test well, but appeared average with some hip tightness on tape.
BEST TRAIT – Length/Leaping Ability
WORST TRAIT – Press Technique
RED FLAGS – None
Lonnie Johnson’s standout performance at the Senior Bowl (compared to most of the other corners anyway) generated some buzz in January, but he’s going to need one heck of a Combine effort to continue to make teams forget about his tape. Troublesome in press and problematic in off coverage, Johnson gives up a ton of separation on short-to-intermediate patterns due to his inability to mirror and match, while also failing to stay in phase and make plays on the ball vertically.
Despite his length and size, I’m not even sure I would bother trying to develop Johnson’s press technique that much, rather opting to play him in a zone-heavy scheme where his length and ability to come forward and tackle can be put to their best use. He just needs way too much work to be trusted in man coverage anytime soon, and will likely need to begin his career by impressing on special teams as a rookie.
Man Coverage – Can be over aggressive in his press man coverage, ending up flat-footed while attempting to jam. Too inconsistent with the location of his initial jams and will occasionally whiff completely. Better when asked to play inside leverage man coverage and match receivers vertically, as he becomes more locked in on their hips and pacing. Can open his hips up too soon while playing off-man coverage, and while he keeps everything in front of him as a result, he’ll allow yards underneath. Will rely on his speed turn too often, as he immediately goes to it if he doesn’t trust his jam.
Zone Coverage – Asked to play a lot of deep third at Kentucky out of a half-turn. Comfortable in this alignment, and wouldn’t get beaten over the top. Transitions downhill would be at a solid pace, and he processed the route combinations well. Not often caught out of position or jumping routes that he shouldn’t. Sound zone defender in his deep third, but rarely played underneath as a result of defensive scheme.
Change of Direction – Only average hip flip and overall transitions. Wasted motion in the height of his steps when he needs to turn and burn. Occasionally rounded paths out of his half-turn as opposed to the desirable straight-line. For his overall length, his change of direction is solid. However, he’s too often allowing separation of out route breaks as he plays with improper pad-level and isn’t a dynamic change of direction mover.
Ball Skills – Without question one of Johnson’s strengths as a prospect is the potential within his back skills. The consistency of them can come and go, but look no further than his interception against Penn State as an example of what they could become. The ability to track and high point passes and disrupt the catch point are evident on his film, and his lengths adds to his radius.
Athleticism – Johnson is an average athlete for the position compared to NFL cornerbacks. Not necessarily a fluid mover or accelerator, his long speed just seems passable, not dynamic. Definitely strong for the position but rarely in a spot where he can showcase this trait.
Run Support – Johnson is aware of his force responsibility and does a good job of keeping his outside half free. Can be aggressive when he reads run, but it takes awhile for him to process the play. Additionally, he’s unreliable when asked to fold inside in his run fits. Angles can be questionable as he tracks the ball carrier downhill, which happened multiple times against Georgia.
Tackling – For the cornerback position, his ceiling as a tackler is very high. There are examples of him attacking downhill and laying the wood after allowing receptions for minimal gain. Only decent in pursuit or after allowing receptions down the field, as he seems more comfortable when he’s able to gather his feet and let the ball carrier come towards him.
BEST TRAIT – Zone Coverage
WORST TRAIT – Change of Direction
RED FLAGS – None
Johnson played primarily on the right side of the formation, sometimes going full games without flipping over to the left. He doesn’t lack athleticism for the position, which gives him a relatively high ceiling when coupled with his large frame. Will fit into another cover 3 based scheme in the NFL, but don’t underrate his ability to play man coverage against vertical routes along the boundary. Johnson’s had one of the better weeks among the cornerbacks at the Senior Bowl, showing competitiveness and more confidence in his press technique.