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Rumblings Scouting Report: Alabama FS Rashad Johnson

Alabama FS Rashad Johnson (photo source)

As the 2009 NFL Draft approaches, the editorial staff at Buffalo Rumblings has been profiling draft prospects that may end up being potential targets of the Buffalo Bills. The Bills don't necessarily need a safety, but they do need a playmaker defensively - and they'll take on wherever they can get one. Profiled here is Alabama safety Rashad Johnson.

The Buffalo Bills entered the 2009 off-season with two big needs: an offensive playmaker and a defensive playmaker. Their offensive playmaker is now on the roster after the signing of WR Terrell Owens. Defensively, however, the Bills are still lacking that impact player; now, with the Jason Peters situation possibly dictating that the team focus on its offensive line early and often in the draft, the Bills may be forced to pass on some of the draft's better defensive playmakers. If that ends up being the case, backup plans will need to be executed. If the Bills are looking for a defensive playmaker from the third round on, Alabama S Rashad Johnson might be the type of player they target.

In order to get a better grasp on Johnson, we spoke with outsidethesidelines, a lead blogger at Roll Bama Roll, SB Nation's Alabama blog, and the man who spoke with us about OT Andre Smith a few weeks back. Here's everything you need to know about Rashad Johnson.

Rashad Johnson - Safety, Alabama
5'11", 203 pounds, 4.53-second 40 yard dash

Strengths: Highly productive two-year starter in the SEC... Great intangibles, instincts and football IQ... Has been called a "coach on the field"... Leadership qualities... Has a flair for the big play and scored two career touchdowns on interception returns... Some of the best ball skills on a DB this year... Solid range... Smooth athlete, can turn and run... Has the ability to play corner in some situations... Tough player and a good worker.

Weaknesses: Not an elite physical specimen... Timed speed is average and recovery skills are lacking a bit... Probably not going to be a great run defender as a pro... Minor technical issues... Arrested in February of '08 for disorderly conduct... Upside is probably more limited than most other DBs in this draft class.

NFL comparison: Tanard Jackson, Tampa Bay
- Johnson will very much be a coverage safety in the NFL. He is a willing run defender that gives great effort, but he is not a powerful tackler and isn't strong safety material at this level. What makes him an outstanding prospect is his top-flight intangibles and, more importantly, his ball skills - Johnson tallied 19 passes defended and 11 interceptions in his two seasons as a starter. He also has the ability to play man coverage in the short area, but he's much better suited to playing center field in zone coverages, where he can use his range, instincts and ball skills to the best advantage. Like former CB Tanard Jackson, Johnson will need to work on his game some - but he'll have an opportunity to become a quality starting safety in the league. If he plays with a team that has an aggressive, active front seven, he could routinely put up 4-6 interceptions per season.

What did Roll Bama Roll have to say about their former defensive star? Hop on in past the jump to find out!

Rumblings: Johnson was a walk-on at Alabama that has worked himself into a pretty good pro prospect. Is he the type of DB that a team can build around, or just a "puzzle piece" type?
Roll Bama Roll: Though I'm a big fan of Rashad Johnson, I'm not really sure he is the type of guy you build around. He was certainly a key component of a very successful defense at Alabama, and I do think he should go on to have a good professional career. However, I just do not see him being the elite caliber of prospect that you could legitimately build a defense around, like say a Mario Williams, Nnamdi Asomugha, or a DeMarcus Ware. Objectively speaking, if anyone thought he had that kind of ability, he wouldn't be likely a second or third round pick. With that said, though, I do think he could be a good professional player who is a key part of a good defense, I just do not think he's likely the elite prospect that you can legitimately say you would build a defense around.

Rumblings: The Bills run a version of the Tampa 2, so the safeties play deep in zone coverages on pass downs and have run gap responsibilities on run downs. Is Johnson a liability in either area?
Roll Bama Roll: No, Johnson wasn't a liability in either the run game or the passing game at Alabama. He's not very big, but he plays fast and is generally a good form tackler, so he's a solid player against the run. That said, however, he really shines against the pass. He has good speed, good instincts, and he always takes good angles to the ball. Last year we played a lot of Cover One with Saban, and even when we had a second safety deep (Justin Woodall), he was a guy who was stiff in the hips, lacking top end speed, and a guy who consistently took bad angles. All of it combined to mean that Johnson was consistently responsible for covering a lot of ground against some good receivers, and even so he excelled. I don't see Johnson as a guy who will be an asset against one thing and a liability against the other. He's a solid player who should do fairly well against both.

Rumblings: Johnson enters the draft with a reputation as a solid playmaker, having grabbed 11 interceptions over his final two seasons. Does he have the chops athletically and intelligence-wise to continue that type of production as a pro?
Roll Bama Roll: I think the biggest concern with Johnson is his raw athleticism. He's a pretty good athlete, but I don't see him as being an elite guy, and I think that's largely what caused him to be so lowly-recruited coming out of high school. And, obviously, that's a concern moving forward as an NFL prospect. On the other hand, though, Johnson is clearly a very smart player, a very fundamentally sound player, and you will be hard-pressed to find anyone who will out-work him. I think when you combine those attributes with pretty good, though not elite, athleticism, I think you end up with a pretty good player at the next level. I doubt that Johnson will precisely replicate his collegiate production at the next level - more than five interceptions a year is very tough in the NFL, and only three safeties did it last year in the entire NFL - but I do think he turns out to be a good, solid player for whichever team ultimately picks him.

Does Johnson "Fit the Bill"? I think he does. This Bills defense of ours is absolutely starved for a playmaker. Johnson is not the type of guy to come in immediately, however, and poof - there goes our mediocre playmaking on defense. He is more of a puzzle piece than a centerpiece, as RBR alluded to - he will need some help to continue to make plays at the pace that he did as a junior and a senior. However, his instincts, ball skills and range are something that our secondary currently lacks - I think he complements some of our current defensive backs very well. I'd be willing to sacrifice a little athleticism, a little toughness from our safeties and another character risk if the guy can pick off a few passes. Need I remind everyone that Buffalo's safeties intercepted a whopping zero passes in 2008? We got seven from our corners and three from our linebackers. Playmaking in the back seven is a huge need - and I think Johnson could (eventually) be that type of player in Buffalo.

Thanks again to outsidethesidelines at Roll Bama Roll for the insight!