The Buffalo Bills exited the 2019 NFL Draft with eight new faces. Most of the first two days were devoted to the offense, but day three flipped the switch to defense. The current Bills front office has typically found some defensive steals in later rounds and undrafted players. In round six the Bills hoped to add to this growing resume by selecting defensive back Jaquan Johnson, the former Miami Hurricane.
Relegated to backup duty for his first two years in Miami, Jaquan Johnson’s numbers don’t jump off the screen. He was inserted into the starting lineup for his junior year and took off. Johnson racked up more than 90 tackles the last two years and was named team MVP in his 2017 junior year. In that same two-year span he had six interceptions and one more touchdown than his new teammate, tight end Dawson Knox. If you’re not sure how many that is, then check out our Dawson Knox coverage here, here or here.
This is usually a paragraph about red flags and injuries and for Johnson it’d be nearly blank. Missing two games with a hamstring injury is about it. So let’s flip it around and discuss how Jaquan Johnson sounds like a perfect Sean McDermott culture pick. Johnson was a well-respected leader on and off the field, with repeated notes describing a person who leads by example. Johnson notably delivered a speech that was credited for inspiring a comeback victory over FSU during the 2018 season.
Nothing about this chart is remotely inspiring. Jaquan Johnson profiles as undersized and not incredibly athletic. The broad jump and bench press look promising but only in comparison to his other numbers. Both are pretty representative of his position group. This is a good time to remind everyone that there’s more to a player than raw numbers.
Despite the poor testing numbers, Jaquan Johnson is praised for acceleration and burst. A physical tackling style is universally recognized in his game. Johnson is said to play smart as well, wrapping up when his lack of size plays against him. Johnson does well in the open field and looks to create big plays by stripping the ball. There’s no shortage of praise for Johnson’s ability to read and react to run plays.
Johnson’s size projects to be a major factor at the NFL level. At 5’11” and with a shorter-than-average wingspan and weight, there is plenty of concern he’ll be bullied by tight ends. A common refrain is that Johnson’s anticipation and instincts are a weakness. The words “slow” or “late” are not uncommonly used in reference to Johnson’s ability to pick up receivers.
Per Lance Zierlein, Jaquan Johnson has a chance to become an NFL starter (grade of 5.61). Zierlein’s player comparison is Budda Baker. Bills fans would be ecstatic if Johnson followed in Baker’s footsteps, being named All-Pro in his rookie season. The size comparison seems apt, but Baker profiled more positively in terms of athletic ability.
Rafael Bush might be a more apt comparison. Bush currently sits at about 13 lbs heavier than Johnson per Pro Football Reference. It’s not out of the question that Johnson will add a little weight and close that gap. Buffalo’s zone-based defense and affinity for nickel formations are likely a good fit for Jaquan Johnson. Though his limitations may need to be worked around, the 2018 Bills thrived by using specialized packages based on opponent. It wouldn’t be a surprise for them to find a use for an aggressive defensive back who knows how to tackle.