Range - Limited range in deep coverage. Lacks the instincts to get a great jump on the ball when it’s thrown and simply doesn’t cover much ground in a deep safety or even split-safety role. Range in the run game is more evident with quicker processing and less ground to cover.
Ball Skills - Made some awesome catches for interceptions in 2017, but the ball found him on some favorable bounces and poor throws more than he created turnovers. Does not make many plays on the ball as a deep safety or in man coverage. Limited at the catch point due to length and size.
Man Coverage - Big guys got him off balance with physicality early in the route, and Johnson didn’t have the size, length or technique to hold up. Didn’t play a ton of man and wasn’t very good at it when he did. Gets after tight ends, but when they match his aggression, results aren’t ideal. Physical projection to slot corner is worrisome based on his tape.
Fluidity/Agility - Agile mover who plays on the balls of his feet and is quick in short areas. Balance is excellent, which helps him finish as a tackler consistently. Has some hip stiffness in coverage and may not be best suited for a mirror-and-match role in the NFL.
Tackling - Misses some tackles due to coming in a little hot and being a pocket-sized safety. Plays with a reckless abandon that constantly puts him around the ball, taking good paths and targeting low as a tackler. Limited ability to go outside his frame, but will put everything he has into stops to provide some hitting power. If you come over the middle on him, you will remember it. Five forced fumbles over past two seasons.
Run Defense - Extremely eager to mix it up around the box, showing the ability to navigate trash in flashes and make stops around the line of scrimmage. Quick reads and fills, mental processing is outstanding to ID run concepts and flow to the ball. Won’t back down from blockers, holding his own with leverage, technique and violent hands. Still, has plenty of time where he gets overwhelmed and pushed back despite his best efforts.
Route Recognition - Quarterback of the defense. High football IQ and was rarely caught out of position. Sorts through route combinations quickly to identify his assignment. Processes routes in zone coverage well, but doesn’t play with the quick trigger and instincts in those situations that he does in the run game.
Versatility - Played around the box a lot for Miami, but lacks the size and explosiveness to play there full-time in the NFL, unless a team is willing to think outside the box. Physical profile projects to the slot, but hasn’t spent much time there in college. Man coverage skills will need work to survive there in NFL. Not much of a single-high option. Finding the right fit will be very tough for Johnson.
Competitive Toughness - Elite competitor who has been undersized and out-athleted his entire college career, yet won off hard work, instincts and incredible toughness. Looks to scrap constantly and willingly takes on linemen and tight ends in battles he is bound to lose. Locker room leader and tone-setter. Hustle guy who makes plays he shouldn’t. Special teams star in his future.
Athleticism/Size - Horrendous testing across the board. 4.69 40 at 5-foot-10, 191 pounds with sub-30 inch arms probably isn’t gonna cut it. Athletic and physical profile is damning for a safety prospect, even worse for a potential nickel corner.
BEST TRAIT - Physicality/Mental Processing
WORST TRAIT - Athleticism/Size
RED FLAGS - None
A pint-sized safety who plays like a linebacker, Jaquan Johnson is truly fearless in his playing style, flying around the field showing off instincts in the run game, better tackling than you expect given his frame and exuding energy and hustle as the defensive leader of a talented squad.
As natural as Johnson is as a run defender however, he’s more hit or miss in coverage. He’s just so limited athletically that he’s unable to make a lot of plays as a deep safety that he should, and he doesn’t make enough plays on the ball to be desirable in that role anyway. Johnson is likely to get looks at nickel corner in the NFL, but his lack of experience and technique in man coverage, along with athletic deficiencies, could be difficult to overcome. Still, Johnson does enough well to carve out a decent career as an assignment-sound backup defensive back and special teams star at the next level.
Round Grade: Late 4th