Draft Daily: CB Kevin Johnson an Intriguing Option
Between now and the draft, we’ll zero in on one prospect a day with an Eagles slant. If you have a player you want covered, let us know on the Birds 24/7 Facebook page.
When the offseason first started, buzz from draft analysts was that this was not a strong group of cornerbacks.
But in recent weeks, that perception has changed. There are now a handful of corner prospects who could possibly go off the board in the first round. Among them is Wake Forest’s Kevin Johnson.
Johnson was only 96 pounds as a freshman in high school and finished at 155 pounds as a senior. He started five games as a freshman with the Demon Deacons, but was ruled academically ineligible as a sophomore. Johnson rebounded as a full-time starter his final three seasons and was a first-team All-ACC selection as a senior.
He’s got the size and athleticism to be a starting corner in the NFL, and Johnson has impressed many evaluators on film. ESPN’s Louis Riddick has him rated as the best cornerback in the draft.
There’s a pretty good chance that at least one of the top-tier corners will fall to No. 20. Given the Eagles’ need at the position, Johnson is a player worth examining further.
At 6 feet, 188 pounds, Johnson has the size the Eagles covet, although he could stand to put on some more bulk. He also has relatively short arms (31 inches).
Johnson ran a pedestrian (easy for me to say) 4.52 40, but tested at an elite level in other categories:
His 41.5-inch vertical ranked second among corners in this class behind UConn’s Byron Jones.
Johnson’s athleticism and burst show up on the field too.
Johnson is a physical, aggressive player who looked comfortable playing both man and zone.
At the 19-second mark here against Clemson, he drops back into zone coverage, reads the quarterback’s eyes, jumps in front of the tight end and finishes with an interception.
At the 3:16 mark of the same game, Johnson gets matched up one-on-one vs. the tight end on a wheel route, sticks with him and goes up to make a play on the ball.
And here at the 5:19 mark against Florida State, Johnson lines up in press coverage, sticks with the receiver on the fade and forces the incompletion.
Johnson is among the feistiest cornerbacks in this class. At times, that’s a great thing. Other times, it gets him into trouble.
At the 50-second mark here against Florida State, he takes on a block, sheds it and makes a play at the ball on the screen.
Similar play here at the 2:55 mark:
I love this aspect of Johnson’s game. There is nothing finesse about him. He takes on contact and has no issue embracing the tackling aspect of playing the position.
But there are times when that emotion and physicality can get him into trouble. Johnson was ejected for targeting a pass-catcher against Louisville last season. The following week against Florida State, he delivered this blow.
He didn’t leave his feet, and he didn’t target the head/neck area, so there was no penalty. But you can see how Johnson toes the line at times. Earlier in the same game, he made a throat slashing gesture after a pass breakup.
“It’s something I talked about with the coaching staff,” Johnson said, via the Baltimore Sun. “I wasn’t going to do it again. I was a little too emotional out there. I like to play with a swagger. I did a gesture I shouldn’t have done. I learned from that. You learn to channel that emotion.”
As Chip Kelly likes to say: play with emotion, don’t let emotion play with you.
Overall, Johnson is a very intriguing prospect. He has good size and plus athleticism. Johnson’s film probably stacks up with any corner in the draft. He seems to be scheme-versatile, does a great job of making plays on the ball and is a sound tackler. It’ll be a surprise if he gets out of the first round.
It’s no surprise that Johnson reportedly was one of 30 prospects who made an official visit to the NovaCare Complex. I’m sure Kelly and the coaches really like his on-field skill set. But I can guarantee that they wanted to know more about his personality.
As we know, #culture is highly regarded with the current regime. Did Johnson just make a couple bone-headed mistakes? His actions don’t seem all that different from someone like Cary Williams, whom the Eagles signed as a free agent. Is Kelly bothered that he was academically ineligible for a year? Or encouraged because he bounced back so well?
The stakes are high in the draft, especially in the first few rounds. Think of the players the Eagles have drafted early: Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz, Bennie Logan, Marcus Smith II and Jordan Matthews. They were all clean as a whistle coming out of school.
My gut is that the Eagles might end up preferring someone like Byron Jones, who is considered without a doubt to be high character. But given Johnson’s skill set, if they liked what they heard during the official visit, he’s a player who could be high on their board at No. 20.