Teams don't usually expect much from a late-round selection in the draft. However, it looks like Antonio Johnson could be the exception to the rule. Dubbed a draft steal, the former Texas A&M Aggie has made a strong impression for the Jacksonville Jaguars early in training camp.
Back in college, Johnson played multiple spots across the Aggies' secondary and was projected to go late in the first or second round in this year's draft. However, the first and second rounds came and went and he was still available. In fact, he had to wait until the fifth to hear his name called. That's when the Jags chose him with the 160th overall pick.
So far, Johnson has been everything the team's brass hoped and then some. Even though he's listed as a safety, he's been getting reps in the slot since offseason workouts. While veteran Tre Herndon is slated to handle nickel duties in 2023, he might need to fend off Johnson.
Although there's still ample time left before the Jaguars start putting together the 53-man roster for the 2023 season, they have probably considered earmarking a spot for the East, St. Louis native. It's been just seven days of training camp but he's already registered two interceptions.
It's true that some interceptions are the result of being in the right place at the right time but it looks like Johnson had to put himself in position to make the two interceptions.
What does Jaguars HC Doug Pederson think of Antonio Johnson?
Now, Johnson won't solely get playing time in the regular season because he came down with two interceptions in training camp. He needs to continue to make the most of his chances and keep making plays in the preseason. But so far, head coach Doug Pederson is pleased with his development.
Pederson met with the local media before Day 7 of Jaguars training camp and talked about Johnson's progress.
"He's improving and he's learning the defense. He's been in the right spots," Pederson said. And a lot of times, interceptions or just being in the right spot at the right time and he's done that. Defense the last couple days has had some hands on footballs and created some takeaways, which we talked a lot about, and it's good. It's good to see that our young guys are stepping up.
Now, it's not a given that Johnson will start the season in the slot. Sophomore cornerbacks Gregory Junior and Montaric Brown have also made strides, so Johnson's path to the nickel position won't be straightforward. Still, it's encouraging to hear that he has a legitimate chance to earn a role next season.
Working in Johnson's favor is that since he's a late-round selection, there aren't big expectations surrounding him in 2023. If he isn't ready to contribute, the Jaguars roll with Herndon early on while Johnson continues to hone his skills.
That said, don't be surprised if Johnson finds a way to carve a role on defense early in the 2023 season.