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5 things to know about new Jaguars S Antonio Johnson

The Jacksonville Jaguars had a reliable starting duo of safeties during the 2022 season in Andre Cisco and Rayshawn Jenkins. The team also has Andrew Wingard, a firecracker of a reserve safety who maximized his limited snaps last year.

So safety wasn’t exactly a top need for the Jaguars in the 2023 NFL draft, but it’s impossible to fault the team for picking Antonio Johnson when he fell into their lap in the fifth round.

Johnson has been lauded as one of the best picks made by the Jaguars in April, but who is the former Texas A&M safety? Here are five things to know about Johnson:

1. Johnson spent most of his time at A&M playing in the slot

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Johnson wasn’t a traditional safety in college and instead played all over the Aggies’ secondary. According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson played 1,382 defensive snaps in his final two seasons at Texas A&M and was lined up in the following spots on those plays:

  • 883 in the slot

  • 258 in the box

  • 114 as deep safety

  • 92 on the defensive line

  • 33 at cornerback

The Jaguars have a pair of starting safeties in Andre Cisco and Rayshawn Jenkins, but could use help at slot cornerback. However, general manager Trent Baalke thinks those Texas A&M defensive alignments were a little misleading.

“He’s in the slot a lot, but he’s a safety in how they play the defense,” Baalke said of Johnson. “He wasn’t man covering a lot of people in the slot. He dropped down, more of a box-type guy.”

2. Tragedy shaped Johnson's early life

Johnson was raised in East St. Louis, a city he called “rough” in an interview with the Texas A&M student newspaper, The Battalion.

In 2019, a close friend of Johnson’s and a rising football star, Jaylon McKenzie, was shot and killed when a fight broke out at a house party. In the same year, Johnson’s home burned down, leaving him temporarily homeless.

3. Jimbo Fisher raved about Johnson's 'elite' coverage skills

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Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher, who previously coached at Florida State, has seen a lot of impressive defensive backs during his coaching career, including Jalen Ramsey, Derwin James, and Xavier Rhodes.

At the Texas A&M pro day earlier this spring, Fisher had nothing but great things about the latest defensive back to come from under his wing.

“Let me tell you something; competitor, tough, not many safeties can play second level, what I’m saying down in the box and be physical, but then have the ball skills to play on the top end and the third level,” Fisher said of Johnson, via On3. “The safeties that go high like himself, I call coverage guys and other guys are tackle guys, but he has the ability to do both. … His ability to judge the ball, play the ball in a deep part of the field and cover is elite, which in the pro game you got to do.”

Fisher wouldn’t answer a question about how Johnson compares to James, but did tell reporters that the former Aggies safety frequently asked his coach what the Chargers safety’s work ethic was like during his time as a college athlete.

4. Johnson earned All-SEC honors in 2021 and 2022

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Johnson only played three years of college football before declaring for the 2023 NFL draft. After seeing the field on a limited basis as a freshman, Johnson stepped into the starting lineup full-time in 2021 and was an instant star.

He earned Second Team All-SEC honors as a sophomore and a First Team All-SEC nod as a junior.

In both seasons, he earned spots on the PFF All-American Team, including first team honors alongside his new teammate, Devin Lloyd, in 2021.

5. Johnson was listed as one of the steals of the draft

Early in the draft process, Johnson was paired with the Jaguars in the first round of a few mock drafts before slipping into the second and third rounds in most projections. So Jacksonville landing the safety with the No. 160 overall selection was a surprise.

So it’s no shock that multiple outlets called the pick a huge win for the Jaguars.

At Pro Football Focus, Johnson was listed as the biggest steal of the fifth round, The Athletic called the pairing of Johnson with the Jaguars one of the top 10 best fits of the draft, and Matt Miller of ESPN listed Johnson as one of the top 50 best picks of the draft.

Story originally appeared on Jaguars Wire