New York Giants: Can Jadar Johnson become an UDFA steal?

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports /

The New York Giants took a flier on undrafted free agent safety Jadar Johnson, a move that may pay off for the club down the road.

The NFL draft is the biggest party of the offseason for football fans experiencing withdrawal symptoms roughly three months after the conclusion of a Super Bowl. With that said, nobody could blame even the most passionate of supporter for tapping out by the time seventh-round picks, let alone undrafted free agents, are acquired by teams. You have lives, and you can only spend so much time reading and hearing about football before an intervention is required.

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Thus, it’s understandable some followers of the New York Giants may have missed the club took a flier on Clemson safety Jadar Johnson following the draft. Johnson was projected to be picked on April 30 during the closing rounds of the draft process in some mock drafts (Walter Football had Johnson going 238th overall), but the physically impressive defender remained available as Mr. Irrelevant was announced.

Johnson likely would’ve gone unnoticed among casual Giants fans if not for Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated, who recently listed the safety among his potential “draft sleepers.” Burke wrote the following about the prospect:

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"Johnson (6′ 0″, 206) looked more the part of an early-Day 3 pick than a UDFA. A one-year starter at Clemson, he picked off five passes and broke up a dozen more. He’s not much of a threat vs. the run, but considering how much teams value playmakers at the free safety spot, it’s a minor upset he did not hear his name called."

It’s nice Johnson looks like a pro and created some highlights while featuring for Clemson, but what exactly did the Giants get in signing the 21-year old who does not even have his own Wikipedia page? After some investigating, it appears Big Blue took a shot on a mixed bag who may prove not to be worth the trouble.

The Pro Football Focus Analysis Team was nothing if not brutally honest when evaluating Johnson. That source mentioned Johnson surrendered 24 receptions on the 44 passes thrown his way last season, but also that he possesses an “inability or unwillingness” to play the run. While technique flaws are to be expected among all rookies, let alone undrafted acquisitions, it’s hard to imagine head coach Ben McAdoo and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will tolerate any lack of effort from a player not guaranteed a roster spot.

The CBS Sports/ crew also noted Johnson’s alleged problems with heart and tenacity during games, writing that, he “is far too satisfied with standing around the pile and letting teammates do the dirty work in run support.” In short, that scouting report views Johnson as a project who may develop into a pass-defender if placed in the right system and given time.

Lance Zierlein of apparently agreed with that assessment:

"Explosive height, weight, speed prospect with terrific ball skills but an inconsistent approach in run support. Johnson’s ball production, despite just one season as a starter, will likely give a team confidence that he will continue to shine in that area on the next level. Johnson has starting NFL potential and a strong workout could push him up the draft board. However, he must improve his run support to be a long-time starter in the league."

After reading up on Johnson and watching the video posted above, you may be struggling to understand why Burke sees much of anything in the Giants giving a shot to a young man seemingly destined to become a practice squad filler. Certainly, there must be other talented athletes with higher motors and more passion available and worthy of opportunities.

It’s possible the Giants are the perfect home for Johnson. Both McAdoo and Spagnuolo are no-nonsense leaders and also coaches who will break down every flaw in a player en route to hopefully fixing any correctable issues. This staff is also capable of showing patience when such a situation arises.

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Safety Landon Collins wasn’t overly impressive during his rookie campaign back in 2015, so much so the Giants considered moving him to linebacker. Cooler heads prevailed, Collins remained at the position and he evolved into a true Defensive Player of the Year candidate for the 2016 season. Johnson may never get to such a level, but he can find a mentor in the former Crimson Tide star.

Collins isn’t the only talented player in the New York secondary who should keep Johnson grounded and on sidelines during games. Darian Thompson will hopefully make a full return from a foot injury that cost him the bulk of his first pro season. Andrew Adams, who went undrafted in 2016, produced a stellar rookie year. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins are cornerbacks, but they can provide leadership and guidance for a player in his early 20s learning the NFL game as he goes along.

The PFF piece compared Johnson to free agent Duke Ihenacho, who went undrafted in 2012 and eventually caught on with the Denver Broncos. It took some time, but Ihenacho evolved into a player worthy of a starting spot for the Broncos. He even made nine total tackles in the Super Bowl XLVIII blowout loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

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Johnson probably won’t become an All-Pro, but that doesn’t mean the Giants can’t turn what is essentially a free signing into a meaningful contributor so long as he is willing to make efforts to evolve as a defensive player. Only time will tell if Burke is right, or if Johnson will become a forgotten man three years from now.