Jaguars DB Antonio Johnson labeled 2023 NFL Draft biggest steal in Round 5
NFL clubs expect to find potential starters in the first three rounds of the draft. However, it's not uncommon to find hidden gems in the later rounds. Every year, there's a prospect that slides for whatever reason but goes on to have a huge impact for the team that drafted him. Trevor Sikkema Pro Football Focus thinks Texas A&M defensive back Antonio Johnson could be that player for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Sikkema recently drew up a list of what he thinks are the biggest steals in each round of the 2023 NFL Draft. He opines that the Jags hit it out of the ballpark when they chose Johnson in the fifth with the 160th overall selection. Here's why Sikkema thinks Johnson was a value pick.
"Johnson was the 53rd-ranked player on PFF's final big board, so for the Jaguars to get him more than 100 picks beyond that sot signals "draft gem" potential. Johnson's tape had some inconsistencies to it, but the hybrid safety-nickel defender earned a 91.0 PFF grade since 2021, and when lined up in the slot, specifically, he earned a 91.2 PFF grade since 2021, which was the highest grade at that alignment of any defensive back. "
Throughout the draft process, Johnson was seen as a potential first or second-round talent. Heck, the Jags were even seen as a potential fit for him in Round 2. However, they went with Penn State tight end Branton Strange. Surprisingly, Johnson started to slide and was still available at No. 160. General manager Trent Baalke must've thought he offered great value at that point of the draft and ended up taking him.
Sikkema isn't the only analyst that has praised the Johnson pick though. Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports called him a value pick, noting that the East St. Louis, Illinois native can "line up just about anywhere and went as far as to call him a "heat-seeking missile when coming downhill.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have a potential movable chess piece in Antonio Johnson
Cornerback was one of the biggest needs and Johnson's ability to line up in the slot makes him an early candidate to play nickel. However, head coach Doug Pederson told the local media after the draft that they plan to keep him at safety. Keep in mind that plans can always change and if Johnson puts on display his versatility in training camp, it will be hard for the coaching staff not to let him show what he can do.
The Jags don't lose anything by trying Johnson out in the slot. Worst case scenario, they decide that he's better suited to play safety in the NFL. Best case, they find a potential long-term starter at nickel. Either way, they need to give him a shot.
If Johnson ends up playing safety full-time, he could then refine his skills behind Rayshawn Jenkins and Andre Cisco. Although neither one is going anywhere, it's a good idea to groom a potential replacement in case either one misses time for whatever reason. It's true that Andrew Wingard re-signed in the offseason but Johnson arguably has a bigger ceiling and could end up being more than a special-teams contributor.
In the end, the teams didn't think Johnson was worthy of being a Day 1 or 2 picks and ended up lasting until the fifth round. If their evaluation isn't off, he could become a solid role player down the round and that's not a bad thing at all. On the other hand, there's a chance the Jacksonville Jaguars might have run into a potential diamond in the run, so they'll need to polish him in the upcoming months to find out what they have in him.