Fair warning: Jaylon Johnson is one of my draft crushes, and there will be some shameless swooning in this scouting report. Proceed at your own risk.
Name: Jaylon Johnson
Weight: 190 lbs
2019 stat line” 13 games, 36 tackles, 2 interceptions, 11 passes defensed
It’s easy to look at this Utah defense and come away impressed. They ranked second in the nation in yards allowed and sixth in scoring, and it’s because they had ball players at every level. Johnson is no different, and was arguably the best player on the whole unit.
The best way to describe Johnson is that he’s an absolute dog. He’s tall and very long for a cornerback, and he’s lean enough to be agile when moving around. On top of that, Johnson plays like he loves the fact that football is a contact sport. Cornerbacks don’t usually feature run support so prominently, but for Johnson it stands out in a positive way.
On running downs, Johnson takes on a linebacker mentality. He finds the ballcarrier and swoops in, looking to punish someone. His length grants him a ridiculous tackle radius for a defensive back and he uses every inch of it to his advantage; receivers and tight ends have a hard time blocking him because of it. Sometimes it looks like he flies out of control in tackling, but that’s just his style: he’s constantly aware of where the sideline is and uses it as leverage when he goes to wrap up.
In man coverage, Johnson is incredibly hard to break away from. He’s a bit grabby, but shows a good understanding of how to hide it so he doesn’t get penalized. Utah ran a lot of press man coverage and Johnson thrived because of it. If he gets his hands on a receiver at the snap, he’s very good. He trails incredibly well and knows how to use his wingspan to block any throwing lanes.
He’s equally effective in zone coverage, although his production does seem to have a negative correlation relative to how big a zone he’s tasked with covering. Johnson is at his best in thirds and quarters coverages, as well as more shallow zones closer to the line of scrimmage. Like most of the other players at Utah, he’s not an elite athlete and that shows in his burst out of zone coverage. But Johnson still makes good use of leverage, positioning, and his length to be effective in spite of it.
Finally, Johnson has an absolute nose for the football. In three years as a starter for the Utes, he snagged seven interceptions, including four his sophomore season. When the ball is in the air, Johnson looks for it, a trait that many Cowboys fans will welcome after last year’s struggles. Johnson has a keen sense of when to go for the big play and when to merely knock it down; he also has 21 passes defensed in his three year career. But when Johnson does decide to go for the pick, he turns into a receiver with the way he tracks the ball and high points it. If he’s going for it and he’s realistically close to getting the ball, he’s coming up with it.
Perhaps the biggest knock on Johnson is that his footwork can sometimes get awkward and out of control, but it doesn’t take him out of the play. Like Shawn Marion’s unorthodox shot form, Johnson makes it work for him. He’s not a chiseled athlete or a technician in the way some scouts want him to be, but Johnson is a baller who can lock down receivers and take the ball away. What more could you want?