NBC Sports Washington's NFL Combine preview continues with another off-the-radar option for the Redskins in Houston’s Isaiah Johnson, one of the fastest cornerbacks in the 2019 draft class.
Also, read our profile on Kansas State offensive lineman and potential first round selection Dalton Risner, and check back for more Combine coverage throughout the week.
Just a head's up for draft prospects and NFL wide receivers. No matter what cornerback Isaiah Jackson says on the field, it’s nothing personal.
The University of Houston product played his senior season with a mindset mimicked from Pro Bowl talents Richard Sherman and Jalen Ramsey: Let’s talk. Not just for junk – fine, maybe a little -- but to battle.
“If we’re going back and forth during a game, it’s not because I hate you as a person or dislike you,” the boundary corner with speed and tackling chops told NBC Sports Washington. “Nah, we’re just competing head to head. After the game, I’ll shake your hand no matter what because I’m out there to compete. That’s what I like.”
If anything, Johnson, polite by nature, sees his verbal engagement as lending help.
“I think that brings out another edge for somebody else. I don’t like people that don’t go and give everything they have. No, I want your best. If I have to talk to you and treat you like you’re not that good to get out your best, I’m going to do that.”
Nobody cares about the 6-foot-2 corner from south-central Texas if his game were all hat and no cattle. Johnson, a possible fourth-round option, started 10 of 11 games for Houston in 2018 and led the Cougars with seven passes defended.
Similar to Redskins cornerback Quinton Dunbar, Johnson switched from receiver to those covering pass catchers, though he made a move before his junior season.
Over the next two seasons, he developed into one of college football’s fastest cornerbacks. That speed element is something Washington’s plodding defense requires in the secondary and at all three levels.
Any coaching staff desires players that wake up ready to compete, making Johnson one to consider.
Upon moving to the defensive side, Johnson found a football idol in Sherman, a three-time All-Pro selection known for his excellent cover skills and animated nature.
“I really, really appreciated the game of Richard Sherman,” Johnson said. “I love the way he plays with his mind, his technique, the way he makes the defense work for him.”
Those observations helped solidify Johnson’s on-field persona.
“I love to compete. That’s my nature,” Johnson said. “I do add the talking aspect concept. I like to mess with people’s heads just a little bit.”
He also likes to track down ball carriers with his speed and tackling ability.
Johnson’s 40-time should land in the 4.38-4.44 range, though the off-season training focused less on any specific number and more about that initial burst from the blocks.
“For me, I focus specifically on the start because my back end will make up for it with top-end speed and my stride,” said the former high school track standout. “For me, I needed to focus more on the beginning of the 40, how to run it, the correct steps.”
Don’t assume the track background means Johnson shies away from contact. Over 70 percent of his 66 tackles last season were solo.
“Me putting on weight and learning how to tackle in college, especially my senior year, it built my confidence up to make those tackles in the open field and do what’s necessary to help the defense,” Johnson said. “I know everybody is going to try to run you over or juke you. It’s just about leverage for me.”
It’s conceivable some teams may consider him at safety because of his size and tackling, though Johnson primarily played outside corner at Houston. The Redskins have significant safety concerns, but also unsettled depth behind starting corners Josh Norman and Dunbar.
Considering Johnson’s limited experience on the defensive side, the up-close examination at Combine offers an excellent opportunity to show off his development.
Johnson promises not to over think expectations for the week and rather just focus on the chance to participate in an event he's “dreamed about since elementary school. “
Most of all, just like during games, Johnson is looking forward to the talking.
“To be out there and show people what you can do, show them the real you with the interviews and meeting different people and building relationships there,” Johnson said. “I think that’s the biggest part for me.”
If all goes well at the Combine, NFL Draft evaluators will be talking plenty about the receiver-turned-corner because they like his game.
Our Redskins Talk Podcast crew will be in Indianapolis all week for the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine and will be streaming a live show every day. Click here to learn more about how to watch.
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