DTR Top-10: Rams John Johnson III Nearing NFL’s Elite Safeties

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Twice a week this offseason Blaine Grisak and Jake Ellenbogen of Downtown Rams shared their top-10 players from each position in the NFL. We’ll discuss our lists and why we ranked players where we did as well as the position in general.

We also asked the rest of the Downtown Rams staff who their top-10’s were and will have a poll and its results at the end.

In this final edition, Blaine and Jake unveil their top-10 cornerbacks in the NFL heading into the 2019 season and who is ready to take that next step.

Previous Top-10’s

Top-10 Safeties

Blaine

1. Eddie Jackson – CHI
2. Jamal Adams – NYJ
3. Derwin James – LAC
4. Harrison Smith – MIN
5. Kevin Byard – TEN
6. Earl Thomas – BAL
7. Tracy Walker  – DET
8. John Johnson III – LAR
9. Bradley McDougald – SEA
10. Damontae Kazee – ATL

Jake

1. Jamal Adams – NYJ
2. Kevin Byard – TEN
3. Eddie Jackson – CHI
4. Derwin James – LAC
5. Harrison Smith – MIN
6. Adrian Amos – GB
7. Earl Thomas – BAL
8. Eric Weddle – LAR
9. John Johnson III – LAR
10. Jessie Bates III – CIN

Blaine: Jake, it’s been a long two months, but we finish up the DTR Top-10 today. It’s been a lot of fun but look forward to wrapping it up with safeties. I think when it comes to the safety position, Eddie Jackson is as good as it gets. The Bears defense is so good, but he leads that team on the back end. Jamal Adams and Derwin James are right there at No. 2 and No. 3. Going further down my list, John Johnson comes in at No. 8. I loved his length and athleticism coming out of Boston College, and that has translated to the NFL. I look forward to him taking that next step in 2019. Bradley McDougald may be a surprise on this list, but he was a force in that Seattle secondary and is the face of the Legion of Boom 2.0. Wrapping up my list, Damontae Kazee led the league in interceptions last season. When you do that, you deserve a spot in the top-10. 

Jake: What a series! It’s been fun. As far as my list goes Jamal Adams aka the culture changer in the Jets locker room is as good as it possibly gets. He’s one of the best prospects I’ve ever had the pleasure of scouting, and it’s no surprise that he’s turned into t he best safety in the game. After Adams, my second guy is Kevin Byard, who finally just got paid big time. He’s been great since entering the league, and so he checks in at number two. Your number one guy is one of my favorites, and he falls into number three for me, I love Eddie Jackson’s range, and I think Chicago would agree with that. The next two features a young star in the making Derwin James and a veteran that has been the best safety in my opinion up until the recent wave of youth to this point in Harrison Smith. Following Smith, I stick in that same conference with now-Green Bay’s own Adrian Amos. Earl Thomas comes in at seven the man he’s replacing in Eric Weddle comes in at eight. Your day one guy John Johnson III did make this list for me as he falls into the ninth slot and closing out the top ten is one of my absolute favorite safeties and or even players that I’ve scouted thus far, and that’s Cincinnati Bengals’ Jessie Bates III out of Wake Forest. 

Lastly, I’m going to finish this up with the simple fact being a Kansas Jayhawks fan; I love that you included my guy Bradley McDougald, Blaine. 

Blaine: Hey, I think McDougald has earned a spot on this list, and I’m excited for what he does in 2019. Staying in the NFC West though, I do want to talk about the Rams. We both included John Johnson, and I do think he’s a top-10 safety in this league and is severely underrated. I know you weren’t a fan of his pre-draft and were upset when the Rams took him, but I love what he’s turned into, and I think this is one of those instances that you’re happy to be wrong. What do you think he needs to do to break into that top-5? He’s right on the cusp of being special and playing next to Eric Weddle will only help him. 

Jake: Yes, of course, I was very low on Johnson III as I had him in the fifth round. I felt as though the Rams snagged him too early and I was all in on the idea of grabbing Iowa defensive back Desmond King (safe to say I wouldn’t have been wrong either way) and so that was a little annoying. However, Johnson is incredible. He wins as a ball-hawking safety, he wins in run support, and he wins in coverage. He’s become a young leader for this Rams team, which is why I wouldn’t be surprised out of all the safeties the Rams moved on from, he’s the one that ends up getting the extension. The Rams have a special player in Johnson, and the reason for that goes beyond just his physical traits.

Due to the fact Johnson is extremely coachable, that’s likely why Johnson has transcended into a top 10 player at his position so quickly. What does he have to do to get into the top five? I would need to see more game-breaking plays. He’s someone that has shown overall ball skills and his ability to use his size exceptionally well as he did on the end-zone interception in the road opener at Oakland. If you saw a John Johnson type of player that improved in every area and added maybe 5-10 more pass breakups and then maybe added three-to-four interceptions per season, you would be looking at a top-five safety. 

Blaine: You know John Johnson is one of my favorite Rams and look forward to what year three brings. I do want to talk about that Kevin Byard deal a little bit though. He signs a 5-year, $70.5M deal to make him the highest-paid safety. Do you think the Titans overpaid? Then what does that mean for Johnson and the Rams? As you said, the Rams have a history of letting their safeties go. Their last good safety, OJ Atogwe, they franchise tagged him before allowing him to hit free agency. Since then, there hasn’t been a lot of consistency at the position. Does Johnson beat that $70M ($14M/year) number or will we be looking at a little less?

Jake: Great question. Judging by the fact I’ve rated Kevin Byard at number two for his position, I would say it’s not an overpay. I like the move for the Titans, solidifying someone that has become not only a fan favorite but a staple in their defense. Byard is one of the diamonds in the rough finds that don’t always work out, but when they do, they can’t stop talking about it. Byard’s range and football IQ as well as his leadership and big-play ability injects the defense with precisely what they need. Once you take Byard off that team, who is your real superstar? Jurrell Casey is aging, Jeffery Simmons albeit exciting in the potential department, has never played a snap in the NFL, and Adoree’ Jackson has a long way to go as well as former second-round pick Harold Landry. No, the Titans had to do this with Byard.

As far as Johnson is concerned, I love the question because like you mentioned, Atogwe was the last one. The Rams don’t pay that position long-term, similar to linebackers. However, Johnson seems even better than OJ Atogwe and is likely the best safety that has been there since maybe Nolan Cromwell with Aeneas Williams playing at safety near the tail end of his career. I think Johnson is the best safety the Rams have had since Cromwell. So, in response to your question, I believe Johnson beats out Byard when the time comes, and I think the Rams want to be the team that decides that.

Blaine: I hope that’s the case because it wouldn’t be easy seeing Johnson play in another uniform. As always, we discuss this next rookie class. The Rams took Taylor Rapp. What do you expect to see from him as a rookie? Then who’s another rookie or two that could make I some noise like a Derwin James last year or Jamal Adams in 2017?

Jake: Yeah the Rams did take Taylor Rapp in the second round, and albeit it was ahead of a bunch of players I had initially graded above him, it’s worth mentioning Rapp changed my mind after further film evaluation. His workouts were hugely underrated, which includes but is not limited to his forty time in which he finished in the 4.7’s. That was his first issue because of people who didn’t watch his film, deciding to make ignorant statements based on what the time was for a shirtless and compression shorts-wearing athlete in a gym. 

Rapp is a player that will likely take over for Mark Barron’s old role as a pseudo linebacker/safety hybrid. One thing when you watch Rapp’s film, it’s easy to see how comfortable he is with patrolling along the line of scrimmage. On the podcast, I talked about a potential idea of having Rapp start and making Weddle a rotational linebacker/safety. And of course, by rotational, I mean a role which would be like playing three safeties more often than not really. 

I expect Rapp to make a few huge plays but overall have a solid season. As far as players at this position that I believe in to take the next step like Derwin James or Jamal Adams? I think you have to look at my top overall safety Nasir Adderley with the Chargers (yes another Charger safety), Will Harris with the Lions, Juan Thornhill with the Chiefs and last, but not least, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson who somehow fell into the Saints lap late in the draft. Of those guys, I think Thornhill will likely have the best year playing next to Tyrann Mathieu and being in that spotlight, but the under-the-radar name is absolutely that of Boston College’s Will Harris who will thrive in Matt Patricia’s system.

Blaine: I do like Adderley as well and think Thornhill could be a perfect fit in Kansas City. Before we wrap up our series, I guess it’s time to hit our honorable mentions. Adrian Amos would be right there for me as well as Landon Collins, Malik Hooker, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and Malcolm Jenkins.

Jake: Yes, my favorite part of this whole thing! I love talking about guys that did not make the top 10. Not really sure as to why, however, my honorable mentions are: Minnesota Vikings’ Anthony Harris, Buffalo Bills’ Jordan Poyer, Seattle Seahawks’ Bradley McDougald, New York Jets’ Marcus Maye, Indianapolis Colts’ Malik Hooker, Damontae Kazee of the Atlanta Falcons, Micah Hyde from the Buffalo Bills and lastly, Eric Reid’s little brother Justin Reid of the Houston Texans. 

Blaine: Well, Jake, it’s been fun, but that’ll do it for our DTR Top-10. We’ll look forward to reading your DTR 100!

DTR Top-10

Top-10 (First Place Votes)

1. Derwin James – LAC – 57 (2)
2. Jamal Adams – NYJ – 53 (1)
3. Eddie Jackson – CHI – 52 (2)
4. Kevin Byard – TEN – 47 (2)
5. Earl Thomas – BAL – 44
6. Harrison Smith – MIN – 34
7. John Johnson III – LAR – 15
T8. Malcolm Jenkins – PHI – 14
T8. Landon Collins – WAS – 14
10. Tyrann Mathieu  – HOU – 11

Others Receiving Votes: Devin McCourty – NE, Malik Hooker – IND, Jessie Bates III – CIN, Tracy Walker  – DET, Ha-Ha Clinton Dix – WAS, Patrick Chung – NE, Eric Weddle – LAR, Bradley McDougald, Damontae Kazee – ATL, Eric Reid – CAR, Micah Hyde – BUF – 1

Dan Gleason: 1. Kevin Byard, 2. Jamal Adams, 3. Eddie Jackson, 4. Derwin James, 5. Earl Thomas III, 6. Harrison Smith, 7. Malcolm Jenkins,  8. Landon Collins, 9. Tyrann Mathieu, 10. John Johnson III

Alexis Kraft: 1.  Derwin James, 2.  Eddie Jackson, 3.  Landon Collins, 4.  Tyrann Mathieu, 5.  Jamal Adams, 6.  Harrison Smith, 7.  Ha-Ha Clinton Dix, 8.  Earl Thomas, 9.  Malcolm Jenkins, 10. John Johnson III

Max Perez: 1. Eddie Jackson, 2. Derwin James, 3. Earl Thomas, 4. Kevin Byard, 5. Harrison Smith, 6. Jamal Adams, 7. John Johnson III, 8. Malik Hooker – IND, 9. Jessie Bates – CIN, 10. Micah Hyde – BUF

Bill Riccette: 1. Derwin James, 2. Earl Thomas, 3. Malcolm Jenkins, 4. Devin McCourty, 5. Jamal Adams, 6. Kevin Byard, 7. Patrick Chung, 8. Landon Collins, 9. Tyrann Mathieu, 10. Eric Reid

Alex  Washburn: 1. Kevin Byard, 2. Earl Thomas, 3. Jamal Adams,  4. Eddie Jackson, 5. Derwin James, 6. Harrison Smith, 7. John Johnson, 8. Malik Hooker, 9. Jessie Bates, 10. Adrian Amos

 

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