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PFF Names A&M's Johnson Top Defensive Back For 2022

Antonio Johnson set for breakout season for Texas A&M
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Texas A&M's Antonio Johnson is a playmaker first. His position going into a 2022? That'll be something for defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin to decide. 

Johnson, who played the last two seasons as A&M's nickel defender, is ready to become the leader in the secondary. With the opportunity to expand his role thanks to the departure of Leon O'Neal, the sky is the limit for Johnson this fall. 

Pro Football Focus agrees. 

PFF ranked Johnson the top returning safety. In large part, it's Johnson's coverage skills and the ability to secure tackles near the line of scrimmage that makes him a rising star. 

Covering the slot is difficult — a defensive back has to be smart and quick while also profiling as a physical tackler ready to defend extra space. No one in college football was better at doing that this past year than Johnson.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound defensive back ranked in the top three in the Power Five in both slot passing stops (14) and yards per slot coverage snap (0.58). He blew up plays underneath, rarely let anything by him and used his length to his advantage. Overall, Johnson earned an 87.4 PFF grade for the season — not too shabby for a true sophomore. - PFF 

Under the direction of former defensive coordinator Mike Elko, Johnson flourished in the slot last fall. In the past 4-2-5 base scheme, Elko often played with defensive backs that were surefire tacklers and best used in zone coverage. 


Johnson was highly regarded coming out of high school for his zone coverage ability, making him an instant fit. Ideal in run support with coverage skills, the East St.Louis native was tasked with playing near the line of scrimmage instead of deep in coverage. 

With O'Neal headed to the NFL, Durkin could elect to move three-year starter Demani Richardson over to free safety and Johnson to the strong side. The former Ole Miss defensive coordinator could also play current freshman Jardin Gilbert at free safety, leaving both Richardson and Johnson at their natural positions. 

Last season in 12 games, Johnson recorded 79 total tackles, five pass deflections and an interception. The Aggies defense finished third among all FBS teams in scoring, holding opponent to 15.9 points per game.

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