- Antonio Johnson
- Texas A&M
- 6’3″ 195 lbs
Antonio Johnson played his high school football at East St. Louis. Johnson played offense (WR) and defense (DB) and totaled over 90 tackles while scoring seven offensive touchdowns. He would commit to Texas A&M and join their sixth-ranked recruiting class in 2020. The highly recruited defender was a four-star recruit and was given an early second round NFL draft grade by 247Sports.
As a freshman, Johnson started just one game at cornerback for the Aggies. The young DB was learning on the fly and struggled in coverage. Johnson allowed a career-worst 93.3% catch percentage as the primary defender. He did post a 73.7 tackling grade, the second-best of his college career, according to PFF. The talented freshman defender played 146 of his 159 snaps in 2020 in the slot.
Johnson had a tremendous season as a sophomore, leading the team in solo tackles (53) and finishing with a career-best 8.5 tackles for loss. The Texas A&M defensive back played 800 snaps in 2021, improving his overall defensive grade from 64.8 to 87.4. The biggest improvement for Johnson in year two was his coverage grade. He played 622 snaps at slot or cornerback and improved his QB rating when targeted from 144.6 to 71.2 in one season. Johnson recorded his first sack and only interception of his career in 2021. He was named to the PFF’s All-American First Team.
Johnson was a tackling machine in 2022. He recorded eight tackles or more in six of his nine games, including double-digit tackles in four of them. Johnson struggled with injuries last season but was still able to make an impact with three forced fumbles, one pass breakup, and one sack. Johnson finished his career at Texas A&M with a First-Team All-SEC selection.
There’s so much to love about this play. Johnson is lined up in the slot pre-snap and comes off the edge beautifully. He is able to time this up and give the offensive protection no chance. While yes, this is against a lower level of competition, it’s just scratching the surface of how good of a player he can become. Johnson finishes this play with a textbook clean tackle and forces a fumble which leads to a big defensive touchdown.
NFL defensive coordinators would love to have a weapon like Johnson, who can create havoc. He can line up as a ‘Big Nickel’ and cover in short areas. Johnson can also be a force against the run. Watching him make plays like the one above gives you high hopes for him as a future dynasty asset in this year’s rookie draft.
Short Area Play Recognition
This was one of the best games to watch if you want to get excited about Johnson. He was credited with 13 tackles in this game and was all over the place for the Aggies’ defense. Johnson would play his most snaps of the season at free safety (41) and allowed just two receptions for 10 yards. He had one of his best games; he located the ball on nearly every play and found himself in a position to make a play.
This is a third down and short situation on the plus side of the field for the Arkansas offense, who moved the ball very well in the first half. Arkansas tries a quick hitter to the TE here to beat the pressure. Johnson and the cornerback to that side read it well and came up to make a stop for no gain. The WR to that side does a miserable job at selling a route or attempting a block, but regardless, this is solid play recognition. One of the many skills that make Johnson one of the best safeties in the 2023 class.
Timing up the pressure
I showed you this type of play against lesser competition, so it’s only fair I show it to you against a top-level opponent as well. This is a beautiful blitz and perfectly executed by Johnson and his teammates. Bryce Young is one of the top quarterbacks in this year’s class; he senses the pressure immediately and moves off his spot. Johnson can use the inside rusher perfectly to take out the RB and use his speed to get to the QB and force a poor throw. This is just another reason to love Antonio Johnon’s upside as an NFL defender.
Deep Coverage Ability
The growing consensus is that the deeper coverage Johnson plays, the more he looks uncomfortable. Honestly, there’s some truth to that, but after seeing his NFL Combine drills, I don’t see why. It could be a defensive scheme or comfortability playing in shorter spaces. Johnson’s drills at the combine looked very good. According to PFF, Johnson played 1,029 of his coverage snaps in the slot and just 123 snaps at free safety, and another 33 at cornerback.
There isn’t much concern for me as a deep defender. However, I do believe Johnson is much more impactful as a box safety. As with most adjusting from the college to pro game, there will be a learning curve. We often don’t put enough thought into the scheme and how college defenses focus on dual-threat QBs vs pro-style offenses. Over his collegiate career, Johnson walks away with just four touchdowns allowed on 106 charted targets. That is definitely something to build off of as a good enough deep safety defender.
Big Play Production
Johnson hasn’t had the big numbers that we typically would like to see from a fantasy perspective. The Texas A&M DB enters the 2023 NFL draft with just one interception, two sacks, and four forced fumbles. Those impact plays are difficult to predict, but with the style that Johnson plays with, there’s a strong chance he will make those more often than not. His aggressive and attacking playing style will surely lead to some opportunities as his career goes on. The ability to be a high-volume tackler should be enough to keep him a valuable dynasty asset early on in his career.
Johnson is a player that should be on many teams’ radars with how dynamic he has shown he can be. I think he is the type of alpha personality that, no matter where he ends up, will be fighting to be on the field. The Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Green Bay Packers seem like the most logical destinations. The NFL free agency period is still underway, and the draft is rapidly approaching. I have a lot of confidence in him as a player. Johnson is going to make the most out of whatever situation he’s put in. He has the potential to make an instant impact and be a highly productive rookie if the right team drafts him in April.
The emergence of more NFL defensive coordinators playing more three-safety looks and converting once-college defensive backs into off-ball linebackers has helped the IDP community tremendously. The days of not being able to find a productive DB are gone, and it seems like you can find a streamable option if you look hard enough. Johnson should be a fourth-round rookie pick, and if there’s a legitimate chance at him being a Day 1 starter, he can be a huge boost to your dynasty roster. Keep an eye on landing spots for the former Texas A&M safety and look to pull the trigger before your league mates have the chance to.
The IDP rookie profiles continue on as we rapidly approach the 2023 NFL Draft. The IDP team at dynasty nerds has you covered with all things IDP as the off-season moves along. Keep an eye out on IDP-only rookie mock drafts and dynasty team-building strategies for IDP managers this off-season. We look forward to providing you with all the tools and resources needed to dominate your leagues again in 2023. Keep building those dynasty powerhouses, and remember there’s no off-season when you play dynasty fantasy football.