For years, NFL teams have tried to find tall, athletic cornerbacks to match against wide receivers, and for years, they haven’t found many.
This past season, Seattle put together one of the best defensive backfields in the league with tall, athletic corners. And since the NFL is known as a copycat league, it’s likely that type of player will be at a premium in May’s draft.
That’s great news for former North Carolina State cornerback Dontae Johnson. At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, Johnson has the size and quickness teams will likely covet.
“I feel like the things that the Seattle Seahawks corners did this year definitely helped us bigger corners out a lot,” Johnson said Monday at N.C. State’s Pro Day, where scouts from nearly two dozen NFL teams gathered at Carter-Finley Stadium. “They played tremendously well pressing and just being able to move like a 5-10 guy. It opened the door for us big corners for us to showcase our talents at the next level.”
Corners like Richard Sherman (6-foot-3, 195 pounds) and now-Patriots corner Brandon Browner (6-foot-4, 221 pounds) have put a renewed emphasis on lengthy corners in the draft, and Johnson hopes to reap the benefits of that.
Johnson is among the five tallest cornerbacks in this year’s draft class. His 4.45 40-yard dash was tied for eighth-best among all corners and was tops among corners at least 6-foot-1.
At last month’s NFL scouting combine, Seattle coach Pete Carroll shot down the notion that teams will go out and find similar corners in the draft, because not many exist.
“Big, fast guys are the fewest people around,” Carroll said. “Everybody would like to get longer, taller guys that run 4.4. But there are just not many humans like that in the world. It’s rare when you find them, and then you have to develop the guys.”
Development will be key for the former Wolfpack corner. Johnson started his career as a backup safety, then moved to nickel corner and finally settled in at starting left cornerback in 2013 before moving to free safety in the final seven games after Jarvis Byrd tore his ACL. He had eight passes defensed in 2012 as he moved around the secondary and got his three career interceptions in 2013.
“I kind of wish I would have gotten one more year at corner, but just by doing that I feel like it helped me a lot,” Johnson said. “To be versatile and just being able to play three positions in the secondary will help my at the next level.”
Johnson is projected to be a mid-round selection, though he’d be higher if he had better footwork. He showed good footwork Monday and agreed that he had gotten better since the combine after training in Florida.
Because he needs to get better with his feet, and because of his long arms (31 1/2 inches), Johnson is better suited to immediately play as a press coverage corner.
N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said Johnson reminds him of Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib, whom Doeren coached at Kansas in the mid-2000s. But what’s most important for Johnson, Doeren said, is finding a home at corner so he can hone in on a position.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a moment in football’s history where people wouldn’t say they’d like to have big corners,” Doeren said. “Just the fact that there were a couple that got famous this year probably helps them. But I know all defensive back coaches feel the same way. You’re trying to stop tall receivers with short guys, and sometimes it’s difficult. Having that additional length out there can help you make a few more plays.”