Over the last 12 months, when Jay Hill talks to NFL scouts who stop by Ogden, Utah, the praise for his star cornerback has been wide-ranging.
Some scouts told Weber State’s head coach that the three-time All-Big Sky Conference selection would certainly hear his name called in the NFL Draft.
“I’ve had some scouts tell me he’s the No. 1 corner in the West,” Hill said in an interview last season during Weber’s run to 11 wins, including two victories in the FCS Playoffs.
During the fourth round of the NFL Draft on Saturday, Johnson almost lived up to that billing. Although 13 corners went ahead of Johnson, the Buffalo Bills took the 5-foot-11, 193-pounder from Sacramento, California in the fourth round with the 121st overall pick, the second cornerback from a college in the West drafted.
The 2017 Big Sky Defensive MVP was the first player from the Big Sky Conference taken. Colorado’s Isaiah Oliver was the only cornerback from a Western school selected ahead of Johnson. Oliver went in the second round with the No. 58 overall selection to the Atlanta Falcons.
“I really like him on tape,” ESPN NFL Draft expert Todd McShay said during the draft broadcast. “He has average size, average speed, comes from a small school, had a red flag as a vertical jump but you go back to the tape. First of all, I love that he’s a self-motivator, a guy coaches love at practice and he’s a team captain. Four-year starter who is highly productive.
“He has balance, body control, instincts and the short-area burst needed to play at that position. To me, he graded out as a No. 3 cornerback in the NFL and I think that’s exactly what the Buffalo Bills are drafting him to be.”
Last season, Johnson played a key factor in Weber’s historic season. Johnson piled up 49 tackles, nine pass breakups and snared three interceptions while helping the Wildcats lead the league in scoring defense, total defense, passing defense, rush defense and pass defense efficiency.
Johnson missed two games down the stretch and Weber’s pass efficiency defense dipped to No. 3 in the league. Johnson returned to make two interceptions in a 35-7 win over Idaho State to help the Wildcats sew up the fourth Big Sky title in school history.
The team captain played a key role in the best postseason run in Weber State history. The Wildcats beat No. 9 Western Illinois 21-19 in the first round, dismantled No. 13 Southern Utah 30-13 to avenge their only Big Sky loss of the regular season and came up just short against top-ranked James Madison 31-28 to end the season 11-3, the most wins in school history.
“He’s our best player on our football team and he eliminates a big portion of the football field just by being able to go and cover the opponent’s best receiver,” Hill said.
Johnson was a consensus firs-team All-American. He ended his WSU career with a program-best 42 pass breakups to go with six interceptions and 172 career tackles. He earned a Reece’s Senior Bowl invite, where he was a standout, winning 19 percent of his 1-on-1 matchups. Johnson was invited to the NFL Combine, where he had a solid performance as well.
At the Combine, Johnson ran 4.50 in the 40, did 17 bench press reps, had a 33-inch vertical jump and a 9-10 broad jump. The three-time All-Big Sky selection and the 2017 FCS All-American is projected to go anywhere between the 4th and 7th rounds of this weekend’s draft.
Johnson is the sixth of 12 FCS player picked in this year’s NFL Draft. South Carolina State outside linebacker Darius Leonard was the first FCS player off the board, going No. 36 overall early in the second round to the Indianapolis Colts. South Dakota State tight end Dallas Goedert went No. 49 overall in the second round to the Philadelphia Eagles. Sam Houston State defensive tackle P.J. Hall went No. 57 overall in the second round to the Oakland Raiders.
North Carolina A&T offensive tackle Brandon Parker was the first pick of the third round, No. 65 overall, by the Oakland Raiders. Richmond quarterback Kyle Lauletta went No. 108 overall in the fourth round to the New York Giants.
Following Johnson, record-setting running back Chase Edmonds of Fordham was the No. 134 overall pick in the fourth round by the Arizona Cardinals. The next pick, the Los Angeles Rams drafted defensive end John Franklin-Meyers out of Stephen F. Austin.
Penn wide receiver Justin Watson went No. 144 overall in the fifth round to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Delaware defensive tackle Bilal Nichols went No. 145 overall the the Chicago Bears. Illinois State cornerback Davontae Harris went No. 151 to the Cincinnati Bengals. Jacksonville State cornerback Siran Neal went No. 154 to the Buffalo Bills.
One pick before Johnson, the Seattle Seahawks selected Washington tight end Will Dissly with the No. 120 overall pick of the fourth round. Dissly was the 2013 Montana Gatorade Player of the Year at Bozeman High.