The cornerback debate for much of the early draft season boiled down to Trae Waynes vs. Marcus Peters. But Wake Forest's Kevin Johnson displayed more than enough talent as a Demon Deacon to crash the party, and he did just that when Houston took him at No. 16—with Peters still on the board. There will be much flashier selections made this year, but Johnson may be as solid a prospect as there is.
Johnson was a steady defender for Wake Forest in 2012 and '13, then took a leap this past year, despite quarterbacks avoiding him on a consistent basis. He's comfortable playing in off- and press-man coverage (despite a relative lack of size at 188 pounds), as well as in zone, and has the quick feet to make plays on the football. Teams can never have enough cornerbacks in this increasingly pass-happy league. Johnathan Joseph's contract also expires after this season, so Johnson's arrival gives the Texans an outstanding fallback plan should Joseph depart.
Strengths: Wake Forest won seven games combined in 2013 and ‘14, yet Johnson still shows up repeatedly on film making plays. No question, he stood out on a dismal roster. Adapts to any type of coverage he is asked to play, flashing the footwork and strength to be a very steady press corner moving forward. Comfortable in off-coverage or in zone, too—his lone interception of the 2014 season, vs. Clemson, came with Johnson dropping deep in a Cover-3 look and then jumping a TE route. Backpedal is silky smooth. Stays square, while keeping his eyes on target. Above-average transitions out of that backpedal, no matter which direction he has to move. Athleticism on display at the combine (41.5-inch vertical, 130-inch broad jump, 3.89-second short shuttle). An NFL-ready player.
Weaknesses: Makes up for a lot of his shortcomings with technique, but Johnson’s overall size leaves something to be desired. More specifically, the 188 pounds on his 6'0" frame do not provide him with enough bulk to really dominate in press as an NFL cornerback. While he’ll still win some of those matchups because of his footwork and how well he uses the sideline to his advantage, there will be times when WRs overpower him. Took a lot of penalties, usually while trying to recover. Same problem exists against the run. Can be walled off by blocking receivers, even when he’s in position. Not a great tackler for a cornerback, either. Quarterbacks started to throw away from him as his Wake Forest career progressed. Still, he did not produce many game-changing plays last season—interception number dropped from 2013 to ‘14 (three, down to one) and his total passes defensed fell each year from 2012–14 (18-12-six).
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