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Cowboys 2015 Draft Targets: Wake Forest CB Kevin Johnson

Because there has been such a high correlation in recent years between the top collegians invited to Valley Ranch for pre-draft visits and who the Cowboys end up drafting, it's important to know as much as possible about these players. As a service to you, BTB offers a series of detailed scouting reports on these players, compiled from the work of top draft analysts. Today, we look at Wake Forest CB Kevin Johnson.

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

In 2010, Kevin Johnson saw meaningful snaps as a true freshman, tallying five starts for the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. This initial promise was derailed a bit the following season, as he was given a redshirt after being declared academically ineligible. After working on his grades, Johnson returned in 2012, starting all twelve games as a sophomore, and collecting three interceptions, recording a career-high 18 passes defended and earning All-ACC Honorable Mention honors.

In 2013, he again started another dozen games and again led the team with 15 passes defended and three interceptions, once again earning All-ACC Honorable Mention honors. As a senior in 2014, it was more of the same: Johnson once again started every game and led Wake Forest in passes defended (7) for the third straight season, allowing only 24 completions and finishing with 44 tackles (3.5 for loss) and one interception, earning Second Team All-ACC honors. In total, he piled up 41 career starts and received some degree of all-conference recognition each season he played.

Johnson is a long, fluid athlete with excellent change of direction and acceleration skills - both of which are valuable for man-to-man coverage. At the same time, he boasts the awareness and closing speed to be an excellent zone defender. While he lacks ideal bulk, Johnson doesn't back down in run support. Still, the biggest knock on him is that he doesn't have the strength to be a plus tackler or reliable finisher against the Megatrons of the NFL universe.

The Wake Forest project might not have the highest ceiling, but his floor is sturdy, indeed. While he may never be a dominant, All-Pro caliber corner at the NFL level, Johnson is also more likely than other prospects at the position to be a solid, reliable performer for several years.

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Want to scout like a boss? Let's start by looking at his measurables:

Height Weight Arms Hands 40yd 10yd Bench Vert Broad 3Cone 20ss SPARQ (%)
6' 0" 188 31" 8⅜" 4.52 1.60 -NA- 41½" 130" 6.79 3.89 131.1 (91.0)

And here they are in the form of a spider graph, courtesy of the folks at Mockdraftable.com:

And over at Draft Breakdown, they have six of Johnson's tapes on tap. From last season, watch him perform versus four of Wake's ACC rivals: home tilts versus Clemson, Virginia Tech, and Syracuse as well as the contest at Florida State.

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Let's see what our esteemed panel of scouts has to say about Johnson and his game:

Gary Horton (ESPN.com) 3rd-ranked CB; 27th overall:

Instincts/Recognition: Above-average awareness. Shows active eyes and very cognizant of route concepts. Flashes the ability to come off of primary assignment to make a play on the ball. Does a nice job of weaving within back-pedal to maintain quality initial leverage on receivers. Good anticipation to jump routes. Will gamble on occasion and is susceptible to effective double-moves. Quick recognition and reaction skills defending the run.

Cover Skills: Fluid athlete with natural movement skills. Loose in hips and turns easily. Flexible lower half. Natural backpedal and maintains quality leverage. Smooth transition out of breaks. Above-average man coverage skills both in press- and off-man technique. Quick short-area closing burst. Adequate recovery speed and overall range.

Ball Skills: Adequate to slightly above-average production (33 pass breakups, 6 interceptions). Above-average playmaking instincts. Takes quality angles tracking the ball once locating it. Good hand-eye coordination and shows the ability to high point the ball. Adequate leaping ability. While he has above-average height he has shorter arms and needs to continue to add bulk to hold up with bigger and more physical NFL-caliber receivers in contested situations.

Run Support: Aggressive and willing in this area. Physical taking on blocks but will occasionally be late getting off blocks against bigger receivers. Takes quality angles in pursuit. Effective at cutting out legs of ball-carriers. Will enter contact with high pad level at times when tackling ball-carrier up high. Needs to continue to improve strength in this area in order to be more effective getting off of blocks and finishing as a tackler.

Intangibles: Respectful and well-liked by everyone in the athletic department. Accountable on and off the field. Work habits have improved since beginning of career. Puts in the time in the film room. Learns well and is able to take it from the classroom to the field. Leads by example but has become more vocal as career has progressed. Plays with swagger and energy. Graduated with a degree in communications in December 2014. Academically ineligible and practiced with scout team in 2011. Effective covering punts and potential to develop into core special teams' player.

Rob Rang (CBSSports.com) 2nd-ranked CB; 26th overall:

Strengths: Lean, athletic build and is a legitimate NFL athlete with natural cover skills. Very light on his feet, showing great quickness and fluidity to turn and run with receivers when in man coverage, as well as excellent downhill burst back to the ball for zone. He keeps his head on a swivel and doesn't panic when the ball is in the air, showing good timing on his leaps and the hand-eye coordination to pick off the pass. Johnson is aggressive and will bait quarterbacks, showing a terrific burst back to the ball. He isn't an intimidating hitter but gets the job done, generally wrapping the legs of ballcarriers securely. Has played inside in nickel as well as outside. Johnson's toughness belies his light frame. He started 41 game at Wake Forest, never missing a game due to injury during his collegiate career.

Weaknesses: In coverage, Johnson does show occasional over-aggression, getting burned on double-moves by speedy receivers. Good height and competes in jump-ball situations, but he may struggle in this regard against the behemoths playing receiver in today's NFL. Where his lack of size shows up most is in run support. Needs to show more awareness and aggression in fighting through blocks, as well as the toughness to deliver forceful hits on the ball-carrier.

Compares to: Tracy Porter, Washington Redskins: Like Porter, Johnson's value lies with his coverage skills. Both are effective enough open-field tacklers to get the job done but neither will wow you with their physicality in defeating blocks or tackling ballcarriers.

Lance Zierlein (NFL.com) 3rd-ranked CB; 33rd overall:

Strengths: Smooth hips with excellent balance. Very natural in man coverage. Has feet and discipline to play square and mirror against complex routes. Has low, controlled backpedal. Disruptive in press coverage -- alters routes and slows receivers. Can easily transition laterally and has quick-twitch to break on throws in front of him. Flips hips and accelerates against vertical routes. Crowds wideouts on perimeter and constricts target area for deep boundary throws. Plays stronger than his listed weight. Has athleticism and enough speed to recover when beaten. Decisive player. Fights to disengage and support against the run. Willing to drop shoulder and lay lumber as zone defender. Usually followed opponent's best receiver around the field.

Weaknesses: Has a lanky frame with a very thin lower body. Gets fooled by head fakes downfield and turned around too often. Late to turn and find ball at times. Missed too many tackles as senior. Thin frame a concern as NFL run supporter. Will show too much respect to deep speed and allow separation by receivers who slam on brakes and catch passes in front of him. Ejected from Louisville game for targeting. Flagged nine times for 132 yards over the last two seasons.

NFL Comparison: Sam Shields

Dane Brugler (NFL Draft Guide) 2nd-ranked CB:

Strengths: Above average height for the position with adequate body length...balanced athleticism with coordinated lower body quickness...excellent plant-and-drive burst to close on plays in front of him, displaying sharp footwork in his cuts...smooth pedal and transition with terrific reaction time to click-and-close in a flash...fantastic route anticipation with the reflexes to quickly read and attack - follows the eyes of the QB with the ballskills to make plays...diagnoses the run well with the vision to maneuver through the trash...well-developed spatial awareness with cover sense and understanding of field leverage, using the sideline well vs. the pass and the run...physical and throws his shoulder as a tackler, controlling his momentum well in space...plays with supreme confidence...made an impact on special teams and was often the first man down the field on punt coverage...four-year starter (41 career starts) with 42 career passes defended.

Weaknesses: Pipe cleaner frame with skinny limbs, minimal bulk and questionable growth potential - chose not to lift on the bench press during the pre-draft process...lacks ideal upper body strength and often needs help to secure stops, struggling to consistently finish tackles if not squared to his target - leaves production on the field vs. the run...too easily hung up on perimeter blocks, which leads to poor angles...doesn't show multiple gears vertically, lacking ideal chase or make-up speed after a false step...will bite on double-moves with his overaggressive mentality, often grabbing and attracting penalties as he tries to recover...bad habit of opening his hips too early, leaving him susceptible to back shoulder throws...missed all of the 2011 season due to academics...pulled out of the 2015 Senior Bowl for non-health reasons after initially committing.

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Our panelists are as much in agreement on Johnson's overall ranking as they have been for any prospect we have profiled thus far. The range here is narrow, from 26th to 33rd overall. Of course, that is precisely where the Cowboys currently sit, waiting, with the 27th pick. He's a clear first-rounder on my "little board." Of course, getting him to 27 will be the trick; the teams that have expressed some degree of interest in him are all right in front of the Cowboys, starting with Miami at 14. The Dolphins are followed in quick order by San Diego (17); Philadelphia (20); Pittsburgh (22); Arizona (24); Carolina (25); and Baltimore (26). A bit later in the round, both the Packers (30) and Patriots (32).

If Johnson somehow manages to get through this gauntlet and is picked by the Cowboys, I will have absolutely no problem with that. Not only does he represent that much-desired combination of value and need at 27, he well may be a first-rounder on their board. Plus, he's a very good player, a consummate professional and, by all reports, a good kid. He's the kind of prospect that looks like he'll play through the better part of two contracts with the team that drafts him, health willing. How could I not get behind that?

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Next up: UConn CB Byron Jones