Over the last few weeks, we've been breaking down each of the Jets' free agent signings. Today we continue with an in-depth look at cornerback Trumaine Johnson, who signed a five year, $72.5 million deal earlier this month.
The 28-year old Johnson was a third round pick out of Montana in 2012. He's considered one of the best cover corners in the NFL despite the fact he's never gone to a Pro Bowl, although he was named as an alternate for the first time last year. Johnson has spent his entire career with the Rams and has racked up 328 tackles, 67 passes defensed and 18 interceptions.
Johnson was a wide receiver in high school, but after being recruited to Montana as a cornerback, he won a starting role as a true freshman. After a solid first year, he had 13 interceptions over his last three seasons and was a two-time FCS all-American.
Johnson didn't post great numbers at the combine and fell to the third round after having been a projected second-rounder. However, he was the second player selected in round three.
He started three games in his rookie season and became a full starter from year two onwards, although he's never started all 16 games. Over the course of his career, he's established himself as a top cover corner and he really broke out in 2015 when he was third in the league with a career-high seven interceptions.
Over the past two years, playing under the franchise tag, Johnson did well, although he perhaps wasn't as good last year as he had been in 2016.
The Jets signed Johnson to a blockbuster contract earlier this month.
Let's take a closer look at what Johnson brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study and divided into categories.
At the combine, Johnson had a good bench press but the rest of his numbers were underwhelming and failing to run a 40 under 4.6 definitely hurt his stock. He has good size and length.
On the field, his speed and agility seem fine and his explosion in terms of his closing speed is outstanding.
Johnson mostly plays on the outside and, for the past few years, has nearly always matched up with the opposing team's number one receiver.
He plays plenty of press coverage but is also employed in off-coverage and will sometimes bail out at the snap.
Since he follows the top receiver, this means he sometimes ends up in the slot. That happened more than usual last year, as he played over 100 snaps there and his numbers were about the same as his numbers on the outside.
Over the course of his career, Johnson has posted consistent numbers in coverage, even as the difficulty in terms of his match-up assignments has increased. He's never given up a quarterback rating of 90 when targeted and his average of 75 is really good, especially for someone who usually matches up with the best. He has allowed a completion percentage of 61 percent in coverage.
He's not on the level of a Darrelle Revis at his peak, though. He'll rarely completely shut down an elite player but will still give up some plays and isn't the kind of player that teams will avoid going after in man coverage.
While he held up pretty well in match-ups with the likes of Dez Bryant, Alshon Jeffery and Julio Jones last season, Johnson's toughest game was actually against Pierre Garçon, who racked up well over 100 yards against him.
Technically, he's as smooth as you'd expect and he has impressive closing speed. However, on plays where he is beaten he can occasionally get fooled or caught off balance.
A key factor in Johnson's success is that he hasn't given up a lot of big plays. In the last four seasons, he's only given up three plays of more than 40 yards and he's only given up more than two touchdowns in a season once in his career.
As you can see, he looks comfortable running deep with Bryant here and has his head turned extra early to locate and make a play on the ball:
However, he did get beaten deep once last year - by Garçon, who was able to make a tough catch as Johnson lost his balance:
As noted, Johnson plays plenty of coverage and his effectiveness when doing so is elite:
A little sneak peak of the Rams' section of my coverage book. Trumaine Johnson finished #1 in press-man effectiveness with an 84% "in position" rate. He allowed just 43 yards all season in press. pic.twitter.com/2DjYDC3mFC— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) February 4, 2018
Here's an example of him playing press coverage, where he has his receiver locked down throughout the play but then allows him to get some separation to make the play at the last minute, benefiting from a slight shove.
That's something you'll see a lot if you pick out plays where Johnson gave up a catch, but it's a symptom of the fact Johnson himself is also quite handsy down the field.
His physicality is not just prevalent in his press coverage. He can also make some big hits. Here's an example of that, leading to a turnover:
Down the field, he uses his size well to nudge players off their route and into the sideline and does a lot of hand-fighting when contesting at the point of the catch.
Naturally, the way he plays will occasionally lead to him getting flagged, but he generally does a good job of not grabbing.
That was one thing he didn't do as well last year, as he was flagged nine times having only been flagged 14 times in the previous three years combined. Five of those nine were declined anyway, though, as he's only had 13 accepted penalties in the last four years.
The majority of the penalties called on him have been pass interference, illegal contact, defensive holding or illegal use of the hands.
Johnson has averaged over 11 passes defensed per season during his NFL career and, although he only has three interceptions in the last two years, is capable of making plenty of plays on the ball. His closing speed is terrific, as you can see here:
With his experience as a receiver, Johnson's hands are excellent, although he did drop a couple of potential interceptions last year on difficult plays.
When he does intercept passes, Johnson is a threat to take it the distance with two pick-sixes in college and three at the NFL level.
Since he plays on the outside most of the time, Johnson doesn't get many chances to get in on run stops. He's never had more than a few run stuffs in a season.
At times, when runs come to his side, Johnson will play conservatively rather than gambling to make the stop and losing contain. As a result he doesn't get in on many stops and occasionally a player might gain a few extra yards at the end of the play.
Johnson's tackle efficiency has usually been below average but never unacceptable over the years. In 2017, he had fewer missed tackles than in the past and so was above average in that area.
Here was a bad one though, compounded by the fact that he gave up on the play, enabling the runner to get a few extra yards:
In the open field Johnson does an excellent job of closing and making a solid tackle with good technique. Here's a good example of that:
However, there will often be plays where his man is able to fall forward or drive him for extra yardage down the field.
He has been called for one face mask penalty in his career and forced a couple of fumbles. Here was one where he let the receiver get to the first down marker, but instead made a play on the ball:
Johnson has hardly ever blitzed at the NFL level. He has two pressures in his career when he was unblocked out of the slot.
He had one career sack in college - in his freshman year almost a decade ago.
Even though he's been a full-time starter Johnson has still played some special teams, albeit mostly just on the placekick defense. Nevertheless, he has also handled some reps as a vice and, with his press coverage skills, has been effective in that role, although he has four holding penalties on special teams in his career.
Johnson has just three career special teams tackles and one more in preseason action. He doesn't return kicks, but once fielded a punt and returned it six yards.
Johnson seems to have good anticipatory skills, but every now and then might get caught out by a quick break to the inside or something.
He definitely got schooled on this play by Bryant, who timed his break perfectly as Johnson's back was turned:
He didn't seem to make mental errors or blow many coverages. The closest thing to that from last year's film was a red zone play where he and the safety were bracketing Alshon Jeffery and Johnson passed him off to the safety. Jeffery was able to get away from the safety for a touchdown and Johnson was unable to react to that, but this still appeared to mostly be the safety's responsibility.
He made a good read here to blow up this screen play. There were a few plays like this where he was able to diagnose the play and get into the backfield before his blocker was able to stop him:
Johnson has matured a lot over the years and was voted as a team captain with the Rams. While he was hoping for a long-term deal and kept getting franchised, he still showed up to work, even as Aaron Donald held out. However, he did grumble a bit. However, head coach Sean McVay specifically praised his work ethic and dedication once he got into camp.
Johnson was described as a bit of a joker when he was younger and had a couple of off-field issues in his past; a DUI in 2013 that was reduced to a reckless driving charge and a disorderly conduct arrest following a scuffle with police while in college.
On the field, he's a demonstrative player and can take things too far as he's had five personal fouls for unsportsmanlike conduct or unnecessary roughness and has been fined a few times. However, he's not a dirty player.
Last year, he had a costly play where he was called for taunting Jeffery after a third down incompletion. This appeared to be a weak call as the pair just seemed to be engaged in good-natured trash talk. He was still fined though.
Johnson missed seven games at the start of the 2014 season after suffering a sprained MCL in preseason. Other than that, he's only missed four games in his career - two in 2015 with a thigh injury and two in 2016 with an ankle issue.
Johnson has also had a couple of concussions, in 2012 and 2015, but played every game in 2017.
Johnson is a perfect addition for the Jets because he slots right into their number one cornerback role and can play the brand of man coverage with press responsibilities that Todd Bowles always looks for in his cornerbacks.
Johnson hasn't been a teammate of anyone on the Jets' roster, but he will be reunited with Jets defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson, who was on the Rams' coaching staff that helped develop him.
It was extremely important that the Jets landed a viable number one cornerback in the offseason and the Jets did exactly that with the acquisition of Johnson.
It might be difficult for him to live up to the size of his contract, which puts him in elite company, but if he plays like he has over the course of his career, he's going to be a very good player for the Jets and a massive upgrade over what they had over the past few years.
Some people doubted whether Johnson deserved that kind of outlay because his numbers are only good, not great. However, the fact he covers the other team's top option means that those numbers are just as impressive as someone with great numbers but an easier set of assignments.
Ultimately if Johnson is only good but being paid like he's great, the Jets can afford it and can't afford not to have a good player as their top corner. So, it's an important move either way.
Naturally, as he enters his prime and is reunited with Wilson, the hope is that Johnson can be great and will live up to the deal. If so, he'll be a cornerstone that the Jets can build with over the next five years.