Chicago Sun-Times

Safety Rashad Johnson: I made a lot of big plays

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If you're having second thoughts about Rashad Johnson, throw in some film.

The Alabama safety believes his performance the last two seasons for the Crimson Tide in the rugged SEC speaks loudest when it comes to his game.

Johnson is one of just a handful of free safeties that figure to be selected in the first three rounds of the draft, and he's one the Bears have been keeping close contact with as area scout Ted Monago remains in communication with him. The Bears have a need at the position. They signed Josh Bullocks to a one-year contract and he figures to compete with Craig Steltz with Glenn Earl perhaps having an outside shot. If general manager Jerry Angelo, who is known to like Johnson, goes with a safety in the second or third round of the draft, the position could come down to a training camp competition between Bullocks and the newcomer.

"I definitely believe I have the ability to come in and be a starter as a rookie,'' Johnson said Wednesday afternoon. ``My knowledge of the game is one of my strong points. That will help me learn the system and I believe that will be an edge for me. I think I could do that fairly quickly and I have the athletic ability to step right in.''

The Bears did just that with a rookie safety in 2005 when Chris Harris was quickly installed as a starter. Danieal Manning started at safety for the majority of his rookie season in 2006. Lovie Smith isn't afraid to go with young players, especially in the secondary.

Judging purely on production, Johnson is the best safety in the draft. He made 11 interceptions the last two seasons and also had 19 passes broken up. That means he got his hands on the ball 30 times, far more than any other draft-eligible safety. He's not the fastest safety but his instincts seem to put him in the right place the majority of the time and that's more critical than any stop watch reading. The issue is his size. He measured 5-11, 203 pounds at the combine, but one scout said he played closer to 185 as a senior. Johnson said he was in the 190 range. While injuries were not a factor at Alabama--he played in 50 games--durability will be a question in the NFL.

``That is one of the biggest concerns that teams had for me and I tried to answer all of those questions,'' he said. ``I went to the combine and weighed in at 203 and I am maintaining that weight while I do all of my conditioning and working out as well. Hopefully that's no longer a issue.

``It wasn't so much teams were saying [things about my size] to me but I kept hearing it, from my agent or on TV or wherever. Is he going to be durable enough to play 16 games and then some? He played last season at 190. Can he take the hits and deliver the punishment while holding up? I wanted to leave the combine with all of those questions answered. I added that weight and I maintained the speed.''

Johnson said learning nutritional habits was as important as the training he did at Athletes Performance. He said that is how the weight he has added is good weight and that he's maintained his frame at 203 while he continues to train.

"It's helped me a lot,'' he said.

The Bears are not the only team interested in him. He's made official visits to Denver and Philadelphia. He's gotten calls recently from Atlanta and Baltimore. At this point, clubs are making sure they have the right contact information for players for draft weekend. Johnson is a candidate for the Bears if they elect to go a different direction than wide receiver with their first pick at No. 49 overall. The issue is whether or not he will be available when they select again at No. 99 with the compensatory pick they received at the end of the third round.

Nolan Nawrocki's updated draft value chart at Pro Football Weekly, released Tuesday, had Johnson with a 2C grade, meaning his value right now is as a late second rounder. He gave Johnson an arrow pointing up to indicate he's on the move though. Perhaps the Bears could also secure Johnson if they traded down from No. 49, but they would have to find a trading partner in the right position. Of the teams we listed, here is where they select in the second and third rounds:

Team Round-Pick-Overall Pick

Bears 2-17-49, 3-35-99

Atlanta 2-23-55, 3-26-90

Baltimore 2-25-57, 3-24-88

Denver* 2-16-48, 3-15-79, 3-20-84

Philadelphia* 2-21-53, 3-21-85

* Team has two first-round picks listed safety as the No. 2 draft need for the Falcons. It called it the No. 3 need for the Bears and the No. 4 need for Baltimore and Denver.

Ultimately, Johnson believes the body of work he compiled for the Tide will be the deciding factor for a team choosing him. He also comes with the backing of Nick Saban, whose background is as a defensive backs coach.

"That is a big thing I hang my hat on,'' Johnson said. "I made a lot of big plays. In every game and in every situation we needed something it seemed like I was able to do something on defense when I was called upon, whether it was intercept a pass, I had 11 over the last two seasons, get my hands on a ball or force a fumble. I was around the ball.

"[Saban] made a tremendous difference for me. He's definitely a defensive-minded coach and his specialty is in the secondary. He taught me the little things back there, reading linemen, footwork, small things that help you be successful. It's not all just backpedal and go from there. He taught me about being a student of the game and to anticipate what is going to happen because you've seen it happen on film and in practice.''

A former walk-on who earned his scholarship status, Johnson has the kind of character Angelo looks for in a player.

``From walking on to being a two-time All-SEC player, it definitely means a lot to me,'' Johnson said. ``It definitely came from a lot of hard work. That's something I am definitely taking with me, that anything is possible if you work hard and keep your mind focused on it. I worked hard every day and that is the player some team is going to get. That's who I am.

``[Second round] is definitely where I am thinking right now. Of course, everyone wants to go in the first round but no one really knows. I'm looking forward to watching the draft and getting my opportunity. One team is going to get a player that is going to come in and whether it's in the secondary or on special teams, he's going to make plays as soon as he gets there. I'm a self motivator and I want to win.''

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If the Bears do draft Johnson wouldn't he be better in the nickel. He is a playmaker! One we need to be at the nickel. Manning did well but not spectacular also his contract is ending soon.

Just a thought.

That size and weight are roughly the same as Bob Sanders, a Defensive Player of the Year calibre player. But also a player who gets hurt.

Don't care. If Saban says he's the real deal I would grab him. A great free safety is probably worth three or four points a game. He will help Cutler as much as a WR and there are more of those.

Plus, Angelo does pretty well with DBs, or at least better than most positions. I would have no problem using the first pick on this kid.


Manning is an above-average nickel and Johnson would provide an immediate upgrade over Steltz and Bullocks. FS is a position that is completely unsettled so I'd rather see Chicago - if they take Johnson - to use him at his natural position. There's no sense using a 2nd-round pick on someone just to play the nickel who gets maybe 20 snaps a game. If Johnson's playmaking translates into the NFL why limit him?

Don't know about Manning being an above-average anything, except maybe a kickoff returner. And that usually lasts about two years (see "Devin Hester"). I know that's the party line, but I'm not buying it.

I think, for someone that gifted athletically he must be incredibly non-gifted in the smarts/film study/football 101 department. When he plays anything other than nickel he makes mistakes that just burn the team. See: The Super Bowl.

It's a shame. I figured the guy would be a great FS, but now we're lucky if we can call him a good nickel. We don't need more misses like that.

Take the FS in the second round if he's still there.'08
Jerry's draft grades - not my opinion but hey, Da is ridin high

I agree with a safety worth 3-4 points a game maybe more, but a good WR is worth 6 points every 2 games, so thats the same worth. A good safety and a good WR that is. We have not picked up a FA WR so I guess I am getting the draft WR bug again.

@ Brando

Nickle? Not a chance. You don't draft a guy in the 2nd Round to be your nickleback! That's one of the reasons the Bears tried 2nd Rounder Danieal Manning at almost every other spot in the Secondary before they had to admit he wasn't a starter and stuck him at nickel.

No Johnson is a Free Safety, which in today's pass-happy NFL is just a shade less important than Corner. Rex Ryan said that his D in Baltimore was based around Ed Reed and that because Ed was such a fantastic ball-hawking Free Safety, Ryan didn't have to worry about the Secondary and could focus on bringing a lot of pressure up front.

That's how important FS can be, and Chicago has had more turmoil & turnover at Safety than any other position over the past half-decade or so, even QB! This position desperately needs addressing with someone that has great instincts & ball skills, even if he isn't the most athletic guy.

If that D-line plays the same as last year, you can have 4 safeties back there and still get burned...I hope Rod can work some magic with that bunch!!!

2009 Pro Bowl Safeties:

Nick Collins, 5-11, 207.
Brian Dawkins, 6-0, 210

Ed Reed, 5-11, 200
Troy Polamalu, 5-10, 207

If Rashad Johnson is 5-11 and maintains his 203 weight, he's technically bigger than Ed Reed, who has 5 pro bowls and was the 2004 Defensive Player of the Year.

I'm not saying because he's the same size he'll play as well as Ed Reed, but size should not hold this guy back.

Please draft this man!

Giftz, great point. That's why I compared him to Bob Sanders. Same kind of difference maker. Unfortunately, the next Troy Palamalu, Taylor Mays, comes out next year and we don't have a chance of getting him.

And I agree with Brando: the Bears haven't had a playmaker at FS since Mike Brown when he personally delivered a 13-3 season to the Bears in 2001. That's how important the position is.

Let's get the FS first, if we can, and then see what we can get at WR. I think the QB makes the WRs more than the other way around. I'm all for getting a good WR, but that D becomes world clsss again (I hope) with a ball hawker at FS.

Guys I don't know if I would compare Johnson to Sanders, there not really built a like at all and Sanders is a SS. But Ed Reed is only 200 pounds, and I would say he is closer to 190 soaking wet.

Dozen you may not draft a guy in the second round to play Nickle but that don't mean it can't happen. Manning was a second round pick and drafted in 30's, so it can happen. That pick still makes me sick.

Randy answer me one question, how is Rex considered a successful draft pick by these loons, Orton too? Are they joking with that? Rex isn't even on the team, they let him go, they didn't want him, his record and performance are bad. He isn't even on a team anymore, not any team, nobody wants him. How in gods name is that considered a good pick. They name six guys in six years that they think are good that Angelo drafted and Rex, Vasher, and Orton are three of them. Vasher hasn't been a starter in 2 years, Rex is gone and homeless and Orton got the boot. Am I missing something? Where is Dan Buzain also considered a good pick. They also mention Williams and Bennett. Niether one has played. Thats why I tell people to stay away from fox. I wish they listed the names of the 11 starters over those 6 years. By the way 11 starters in 6 years is less than 2 starters a draft.

I really hope he has a good draft this year. Angelo has been looking for a FS sense he got here so I am not sold on his taste in that department.

Can we trade for Ed Reed? We did it for Jay Cutler?


The D-Line has nothing to do with blown coverages, lapses in judgement and missed assignments in the Secondary.

If Johnson is available at #49 then Angelo would be foolish not to take him.

The kid is a playmaker, period. The bonus is that he is a top draft prospect at the weakest area on the Bears Defensive roster...

His instincts and football prowess are right up their with Mike Brown. Size really shouldn't matter because (A) he will be a ball-hawking FS, leave the run support to SS Kevin Payne and (B) the Bears have one of the best strength and conditioning coordinators in the league in Rusty Jones. Jones should beable to get him on a regimine that will add some "quality" playing weight to his frame.

Go Bears !!

Michael Mitchell OU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Hits harder then bob sanders

Im all for Rashad Johnson at #49 in the second, but its hard telling what Angelo is thinking. Every scouting report I read on Johnson says something about his football smarts, and you gotta like that. The guy defended 30 passes so he knows how to put himself in position to make plays, and his instincts are top notch. I think he'd be a nice addition.

Chicago has signed Bullocks, but has done nothing to upgrade their receiver position. Its probably gonna come down to value or best player available. If Brian Robiskie is there, I hope Chicago grabs him, same with Nicks. If both Robiskie and Nicks are gone, then I'd go with Rashad Johnson, will Angelo? Thats the 30 million dollar question, either way Angelo will improve the team GO BEARS!!

I agree with most of you that Johnson would be a good pick. IMO this is as critical a hole for the Bears as the WR position.

Don't write 'ol Devin Hester off as a top return man just yet. I expect him to be better in the offense and special teams this year. Last year there were some major factors regarding his production and presence on the field:

1. Teams had an entire offseason to strategize kicking away from him.

2. He was trying to learn the Bears offense.

3. Sharing return duties with Manning limited his opportunities.

I don't think he's done. I predict he'll either break out as a major deep threat at WR or have another round of great returns next year. Let's wait and see.

It's also my understanding that their are a few serviceable OLB/DE hybrid guys in the draft this year as well. I like this idea. The names escape me, but I think the Bears could do well to grab one of these guys too.

My Bear friends I am not suggesting that you all don't know football because I am sure you do. However, Daniel Manning has been moved around more than Allied Van Lines thus how anyone can develop at a position is beyond me.

The man is very athletic if we leave him alone and let him develop at one position Daniel will be okay. As far as Johnson he could be the next Mike Brown who I believe is/was one of the best safeties in the NFL, and I was happy he played for my Bears.

Mike only problem was that he knew only one way to play and that's with reckless abandon absolutely no regard for his own body that’s why the injuries occurred.

Here is how I feel we can draft Rashard Johnson (2nd round) and maybe pick up a receiver in the 3rd or maybe 4th round.

Let’s get Tory Holt N Plaxico Burress I am not smoking here me out. Sign Tory for 3 years he may give us 2 outstanding years, sign Plaxico for 2 he will give us 2 (providing he is trouble free hence the word trouble free. Incentive laden contract of course)

Move Devin to the slot so that his confidence can grow because he will always be going against safeties, linebackers, or Nickel backs all awhile he is learning from pro-bowlers. Earl Bennet and the rest of the receivers will benefit because of the on field coaching and the pressure will not be on them like it is now. Moreover, with our running game, and Tight ends we go 14-2 easily.

Since the Bears was able to pull off the trade of the century with Jay Cutler I have faith that they can bring those 2 guys in and it work out.

Danieal Manning just came into his own as nickel back. He's an excellent blitzer from the postition, probably the best on the team, and should stay there.

I hope to god Rashad Johnson is there when we pick at 49. Instant starter and he's a playmaker. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Certainly Rashad Johnson would be a nice fit at Free Safety for the Bears. Another one to consider and may be available at pick #49 is Sean Smith projected as a free safety in the NFL but played at corner at Utah.

Big, fast and hard hitter, probably not as on field smart as Johnson but also probably more durable.


Height: 6-31/2 | Weight: 214 | 40-Time: 4.53

Official Bio

Excellent height and bulk with long arms...Smooth with outstanding athleticism...Decent speed...Very good hands...Terrific ball skills and body control...Very agile...Physical and aggressive...Supports the run well...Reliable tackler...Gets a nice jam at the line...Elusive in the open field..Reads and reacts quickly...Extremely confident...Lots of upside.

May be a bit of a 'tweener...Needs to get stronger...Hips aren't fluid and doesn't transition well...Will struggle to turn and run with speedy wideouts...Doesn't change directions real well...Can be too aggressive at times and will get fooled...Has a tendency to get beat deep...Lacks a burst to close...Raw and is not a great technician...Limited experience.

Could project to either corner or safety at the next level...Redshirted in '05...Began his college career as a running back, played mostly wide receiver in '06 and then moved to defense full-time in '07...Led the Utes in interceptions as a sophomore and junior...Named 1st Team All-Mountain West in '08...Certainly has rare triangle numbers but will likely require some development...Best NFL fit might be at free safety.

Career Statistics
2006 13 2 0 0 0
2007 13 32 7 4 0
2008 13 45 9 5 151
Totals 39 79 16 9 151

At the begining of the off season when the Bears were just starting to scout players for the draft Angelo stated that this is one of the worst Saftey classes he could remember. Now he wants to draft a FS with the first pick.

That doesn't sound like a good thing to me. Just because it is a need and we all know it is a need does not mean drafting a guy high will fix it. Manning didn't fix it and that was just in 2006. Steltz was suppose to be an instant starter, ready to go day one Angelo stated that. He loved Steltz and he loved Manning and now he Loves Johnson. I got news for you this guy wouldn't know a FS if Ed Reed walked up to him on the street and asked for a job. 7 years he has been trying o get a FS, just like he was trying to get a QB. He had trade to get the QB, now he is after yet another Safety. It's funny the more Angelo seems to like guys in a draft the worse they are. I remember he was all about Williams last year and how much they liked him and all he would say about Forte is that they thought he would be a good player. All the guys he gets excited about stink.

Brad ask him who he thinks is ok and will be a solid starter and tell him to draft that guy. The guy will probably end up in the HOF. In fact tell him to find someone he hates. We will probably end up with the best guy to ever play in the nfl.

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on April 15, 2009 3:08 PM.

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