The Jacksonville Jaguars selected 13 players during the 2023 NFL Draft, most in franchise history. The team’s single best pick may have been Texas A&M safety Antonio Johnson in the fifth round; the former Aggie was expected to go much earlier in the draft.
Ted Nyugen, who does great X’s and O’s analysis for The Athletic, listed Johnson as one of 10 rookies whose scheme fit he finds most intriguing. Nyugen wrote:
Johnson was The Athletic’s Dane Brugler’s No. 2 safety but dropped to the fifth round. That might have been because this was a weak safety class overall and the league is moving away from single-high coverages in favor of two-deep coverages to limit the passing games, so box safeties like Johnson who specialize in run support are not in vogue.
Watching Johnson’s film is a bit of a throwback because you don’t often see safeties who destroy blocks like he does. Johnson lined up all over the place at Texas A&M. He played deep safety, operated in the slot and served as the hole safety in Tampa 2 variations. He showed some closing ability in coverage but needs to be more disciplined with his eyes, and his change of direction is subpar. Playing in the box should be his main role early in his career.
The Jaguars put a safety in the box at a high rate. They ranked sixth in single-high snaps and tied for seventh in Cover 3 snaps last season. Johnson will compete for snaps with safety Rashawn Jenkins, who looks to be a declining player.
Johnson seems like an intelligent player based on how many roles he played in college. If he cracks the starting lineup, the Jaguars could have a nice safety duo in him and Andre Cisco, who is coming off a promising second pro season. The Jaguars have a talented nucleus of young players to be excited about, and Johnson could add to it.
Johnson was also listed by Jordan Reid of ESPN as the best fifth-round value in the draft.
The Jaguars needed help in the secondary and Johnson, my second-ranked safety, played multiple roles during his time at Texas A&M. His best projection is as a strong safety at the next level, but Jacksonville is looking for someone who can play the nickel role. The Jags want to keep Darious Williams and Tyson Campbell at outside corner, and Johnson could be the team’s answer over the slot. He brings even more young talent to an already intriguing group.
Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke was asked about the team’s vision for Johnson, who spent much of his college career in the slot. Baalke’s response:
He’s in the slot a lot, but he’s a safety in how they play the defense. He wasn’t man covering a lot of people in the slot. He dropped down, more of a box-type guy.
But, again, there’s a high character, tough guy, great tackler. And a really good teams guy. He’s been a core four guy his whole career there. Looking forward to him as well, getting in here and competing with that group.
(Johnson isn’t Jacksonville slot answer, but he should be a vital special teams player and a legitimate option to replace Rayshawn Jenkins at strong safety down the road.)