Texas A&M safety Antonio Johnson caught the attention of scouts last season as one of the leaders on defense. Will he become the next first-round talent in 2023?
Pro Football Focus recently released its early safety rankings for the 2023 NFL Draft. Entering summer practice, Johnson looks to be the top player at his position thanks to his natural ability to defend the run.
Johnson is just your run-of-the-mill 6-foot-3, 200-pound slot cornerback in Texas A&M’s defense. His massive wingspan shows up in his ability to take on blocks and bring down ball carriers. Combine that with some serious ability to close at that size, and you see why he earned an 87.4 overall grade last year.He limited his 62 targets last season to a grand total of 228 yards. That comes out to only 3.7 yards per target.
He’ll be playing more traditional safety this upcoming season, which should only serve to bolster his draft stock. Whenever he declares, Johnson should be a scheme fit for every team with the number of different hats that exist in an NFL defense. - PFF
Becoming a full-time starter in 2021, Johnson was the Aggies' top defensive back on the way to an 8-4 finish. He recorded 79 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, five pass breakups, and an interception.
A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said prior to the end of spring practice that he views Johnson as a "chess piece" in his defense. The expectation is he'll play a variety of positions, including both nickel defender and free safety following the departure of Leon O'Neal.
Fellow Aggie teammate Demani Richardson was also mentioned by PFF as the No. 9. safety prospect entering the season. A three-year starter, Richardson elected to return for his senior season after mixed results in 2021.
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PFF is high on Richardson's tackling ability and believes he will transition into a potential high-end box safety at the next level.
Richardson is your quintessential box-ticking safety. He may not have a ton of high-end plays on tape — he’s managed only nine combined picks and pass breakups in three years as a starter — but there are also not a lot of glaring weaknesses to his game, either. He’s a solid, all-around athlete at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds who can line up anywhere within a defense. Richardson is also a quality tackler, with only 18 misses on 195 career attempts. - PFF
Johnson and Richardson were two of six SEC safeties mentioned on the list. Others include Alabama's Brach Branch (No. 2), Alabama's Jordan Battle (No. 3), Arkansas Jalen Catalon (No. 5) and Georgia's Tykee Smith (No. 8).
The Aggies open the season at home against Sam Houston State on September 3.
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