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Hoosier draft profile: Jamar Johnson

IU has a few NFL Draft prospects this spring, none more obvious than free safety Jamar Johnson

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Penn State v Indiana
IU’s Jamar Johnson celebrates an interception in the season opener against Penn State on Oct. 24, 2020 in Bloomington, Ind.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Indiana has had a player selected in each of the past seven NFL Drafts. Jamar Johnson is the program’s best candidate to extend that streak to eight.

A ballhawking junior season vaulted Johnson toward the top of NFL Draft boards, making it possible that the All-Big Ten first team honoree will become IU’s first Day 2 selection since guard Dan Feeney went to the Los Angeles Chargers in the third round in 2017. ProFootballFocus.com considers Johnson the No. 3 available safety and the No. 47 overall player in the draft class, writing:

Johnson’s high-end coverage plays are special. You won’t find a safety with better ball production per snap in the class. On 406 career coverage snaps, Johnson’s picked off seven passes and broken up six others. Just don’t ask him to play in the box — he’s a liability as a tackler and missed 13 of his 49 attempts last year.

ESPN’s analysts also think highly of the Hoosier defender, ranking him fifth among safeties and No. 91 overall on their draft board. For ESPN.com, Steve Muench writes that Johnson’s agility and coverage ability make him an intriguing player for teams looking for help in the defensive backfield.

Johnson is a versatile defensive back with good balance, quickness and change of direction. He’s not a centerfielder, but he plays faster than his timed top-end speed and closes well on tape. He tracks the ball well and is opportunistic.

Johnson put those skills on display in Bloomington over the past three seasons, earning the attention of opposing quarterbacks inside IU’s takeaway-hungry defense. After sharing the team lead for interceptions (two, including one pick-six) and tying for third on the Hoosiers with three sacks as a hybrid safety in 2019, Johnson broke out in 2020 as one of the best Big Ten players at his position.

He moved back to free safety this past fall and became the first Hoosier safety to earn All-Big Ten first team honors since Eric Allen in 1996. Johnson finished eighth nationally with four picks while also recording 43 tackles, including one sack and 3.5 stops for loss.

As PFF notes, it’s his coverage that makes Johnson a special talent in this year’s draft pool. Across 406 coverage snaps in his three-year career, Johnson allowed zero touchdowns on 44 targets. According to PFF, Johnson recorded a 31.7 passer rating allowed over the 2019 and 2020 seasons, tops among draft-eligible safeties.

He also graded out as the 10th-best safety in coverage among Power Five players as a junior this past fall, per PFF’s system. In Johnson’s NFL.com profile, an anonymous NFL evaluator said that the former Hoosier could become a good nickel-safety hybrid at the next level.

As a tackler, Johnson might give pause to some NFL front offices. He missed tackles on 18 of the 80 opportunities he had to make a stop during his three seasons, including five whiffs this past season at Ohio State. He also missed three tackles against Ole Miss in the Jan. 2 Outback Bowl.

But because of his ability to operate in pass coverage with the best of them, Johnson has positioned himself as an intriguing, draftable prospect entering the weekend.

And he may not have to wait too long before his name is called.

Johnson Draft Profile

Height: 6-foot-1

Weight: 197 pounds

Prediction: Third round

NFL.com assessment, per Lance Zierlein

Strengths

Position and scheme versatile.

Starting experience at cornerback and safety.

Maintains eye balance throughout the route.

Plays with good reads and positioning from the post.

Instinctive and rangy, firing off the hash over the top.

Smooth transitions to route match from off-man.

Above-average ball skills.

Possesses hands and body control to take it away.

Intercepted Ohio State QB Justin Fields twice in 2020.

Diligent getting head around to find the football.

Field intelligence to line up defense on back-end.

Very good feel for space from short zone.

Rarely out of position.

Weaknesses

* Top-end speed appears to be average. * Delay in downfield trigger coming out of his pedal. * Run pursuit might need more patience as a safety. * Tackling will need more work. * Inconsistent to break down and center up

* Wrap-up tackle strength is very average