Being a late bloomer in the draft community, Jamar Johnson has skyrocketed up draft boards. After all, intercepting Justin Fields twice in arguably his worst performance of his collegiate career deserves praise. His age combined with the perfect blend of height and awareness seems to create one of the best dark horse prospects in this class. Was this one phenomenal game against Ohio State just a fluke, or is Johnson really that talented? Let’s find out.
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Name: Jamar Johnson
Weight: 197 lbs
Coverage Skills (8.0/10)
Johnson gets off to a good start here. He has very solid route recognition, which allows him to always be in a position to make a play. So long as Johnson is a single high safety playing exclusively zone, he will shine. This fits primarily with a Cover-3 scheme. The Indiana product commands his zone with lethal precision. His athleticism and fluidity make sure that he is never fully taken out of a play (even when he misreads the play). These traits (which will be described later) are the reason why Johnson can be a major threat to any quarterback.
Overall, the mental and physical traits that the Indiana product possesses project very favorably to the next level in a Cover-3 scheme. It is worth noting that Johnson has let up a 32.2 passer rating over his entire career (27.5 in 2020) which is less than throwing the ball into the ground on every play.
This is where Johnson shines. In the passing game, few possess the feel for play development the way this prospect has. Maybe Elijah Molden can rival him, but that is about it. These instincts were demonstrated every play with expertise. Think of it this way: Johnson’s understanding of pass scheme is similar to Gordon Ramsay’s understanding of flavor combinations. Few in their field possess their mental ability. Against Ohio State, the former Hoosier filled passing lanes time and time again. He not only did that, but his timing on ball tracking was second to none in this class: Johnson would get to the catch point exactly when the ball would arrive. Some could say it was luck until it happened time and time again.
As amazing as it would be to end off this category there, Johnson has to be analyzed on his run instincts. Simply put, they are poor. This weakness is extremely apparent on play-action and quarterback options: Johnson tends to ‘bite’ on the quarterback run or the run, especially when the play is the exact opposite. The problem with this is that reading the play wrong eliminates an effective defender on the field (which gives the offense an advantage). The play-action issue costed the Hoosiers a chunk play where Chris Olave ran free due to Johnson biting on the run (he was in man coverage on Olave). All this means is that being a single-high safety in Cover-3 is the best role for him because it limits the impact of his negatives.
Run Support and Pass Rushing (3.5/10)
Johnson finally has a poor category. He is an inconsistent pass rusher: he will destroy a running back blocker and have an amazing sack one play then have a clean rush and completely miss the quarterback the next. Against the run, Johnson is usually a liability. His tackling is consistently poor (which will be described later), his angles are also poor in the run game, and (as stated before) he has a major issue with reading option runs. The former Hoosier also has a problem with his timing in the zone run: Johnson had several instances where he jumped the gap when the runner was seconds behind being at that location. Again, this weakness will be limited as a single-high safety, so he should be fine at the next level.
Johnson gets ‘cookie points’ for being a willing tackler. There were one or two snaps where the Indiana product had a stellar tackle against a runner at the line of scrimmage, but this was rare. As stated before, Johnson did completely miss Fields on a free blitz up the middle, so his open-field tracking may be worth noting. Not only that, but the Indiana product also arm tackles and dives, which are the two easiest ways to let a ball-carrier break a tackle. This desperately needs to change at the next level, but it is not unsalvagable.
Ball Skills (8.5/10)
Johnson caught four interceptions in 2020 with two of them received from Fields. When combined with his timing, coverage skills, ball tracking, and instincts, he may be a perennial interception leader contender in the NFL. Johnson is not Ed Reed, so put aside those comparisons. He may be good enough to make a consistent impact and potentially a defensive rookie of the year run. Few have the complete toolbox of the traits mentioned beforehand, and if he is developed further by a solid defensive backs coach, Johnson may be the steal of the draft.
Straight Line Speed (7.5/10)
Johnson never seems to be out of the play no matter where he is on the field. Even when he was 20 yards away from the ball-carrier completely still, Johnson still almost caught up to the runner. That shows some elite athleticism. He does not show that type of extreme range every play; however, he is fast enough to garner major concerns when throwing past 15 yards. Expect Johnson to run in the 4.4 or 4.5s in his 40-yard-dash.
Short Area Burst (7.0/10)
Once again Johnson is always in position thanks to his burst, but it is nothing to write home about. His bailout is up there with the best in the class (slightly worse than Keith Taylor Jr.). What makes Johnson the complete rangy package that he is on the field is his fluidity (which will be discussed next). Overall, his burst is perfect for the role that he will be asked to play in the NFL.
Overall Athleticism (8.0/10)
As stated before, Johnson’s speed and burst are beyond passable. What makes him lethal is his fluidity. The change of direction and movement skills are natural and smooth. That is very key when dealing with elite route runners or when reacting to different route schemes. This movement skill allows Johnson to change course and increases his effective range as a pass defender. Overall, Johnson is a wonderful athlete.
Positional Versatility (5.0/10)
Johnson did play slot cornerback for some of the snaps studied, but his weaknesses in the run game as well as in play-action eliminate any possibility of him playing this position in the NFL. For the record, Johnson was playing slot when the previously explained blown coverage on Olave occurred. His score reflects the ability to be able to substitute into slot cornerback, but he should not be relied on as a quality substitute.
Competitive Toughness (3.25/5)
This was surprisingly a problem. One play versus Ohio State showed Johnson stand completely still and give up on a run play. Seconds later, the ball carrier flew through a gap and took it to the end zone. The issue was that Johnson began trying to track down the target, and he was barely three yards away from stopping the score. If he had never stopped playing, that would have been an easy track down and tackle (assuming he would have tackled properly). Also, Johnson was ejected from the game versus Michigan this year for throwing punches. Hopefully, that is not a continual concern at the next level.
Johnson’s injury sheet appears to be clean.
The late-stage hype is well warranted. Johnson not only shows the skills to be able to cover a receiver, but he demonstrates the ability to lock down an entire region of the field. That is exactly what teams looking for a single-high safety are looking for. Given the fact that Johnson only has one role in the NFL, his draft grade will be dropped slightly. Do not let that grade take away from the talent that the former Hoosier has for the role he will play. When draft day happens, whoever takes Johnson will never have to worry about the middle of the field ever again. Lock this prospect in as a day two gem.
Final Grade (67.5/100): Second Round
Player Comp: Taller and heavier Damontae Kazee