A little more than two weeks ago, Ohio State received their eighth commitment in the 2021 class when safety Jaylen Johnson committed to the Buckeyes. Johnson, a versatile defender, was the fifth Ohioan to pledge to the Buckeyes in the 2021 class.
Johnson stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 200 pounds, making him an interesting safety prospect with his combination of athleticism and size. As a matter a fact, depending on how Johnson continues to develop, he might end up playing linebacker in Columbus.
He was the defensive star for his state championship high school team – Cincinnati's La Salle – in the fall when he displayed three key abilities that could make him a future playmaker in Ohio State's defense: top-notch range, the willingness to hit and natural instincts of a safety.
We're going through his film to highlight those three traits.
One major trait that nearly all of the best safeties have is the range to fly all around in the defensive backfield making plays. Even as a bigger-bodied athlete Johnson has that play-making range, making him an intriguing prospect at the safety position. While he may end up at linebacker in college, he has the range to play safety at Ohio State.
- First play: Lined up at deep safety in middle of the field, Johnson is playing a little over 10 yards off of the ball. As soon as the ball is snapped, he breaks. He comes from 10 yards off the ball in the middle of the field to tackle the runner at the line of scrimmage for no gain
- Second play: Lined up across from the slot receiver at the bottom of the field, Johnson is matched up against the tight end and defends the route well. He then reads that the quarterback is dumping it off, so he breaks back to the running back, causing an incompletion.
- Third play: Lined up across from the slot at the top off the screen, Johnson takes care of his responsibilities on the slot receiver. He then sees the running back out of the backfield and breaks out of coverage to stop the running back for a short gain who he was not covering.
- Fourth play: Lined up at deep safety, Johnson drops into coverage upon the snap, reading it as a pass. When the quarterback sees a wide receiver on the outside Johnson quickly goes from the middle of the field to the sideline, stopping the receiver in his place.
Willingness to hit
By nature, football is a physical game. But not all players are willing to hit or lay their body on the line for their team. Johnson is very much willing to put it all out on the field and hit any player with the ball in his hands. That willingness to hit is what makes Johnson such an impactful player in the secondary.
- First play: Lined up on the inside man of trips in the middle of the screen, Johnson is matched up in man-to-man and reads that his man is running a tunnel screen. He then sorts through the would-be blockers, hitting the wide receiver at the catch point for a loss.
- Second play: Lined up on the middle man of trips at bottom of the screen, Johnson drops into his zone coverage and then reads the inside receiver breaking out. As soon as the wide receiver catches the ball, Johnson double-legs the receiver, stopping him for no gain.
- Third play: Lined up on the inside receiver at the top of the screen, Johnson quickly reads the bubble screen, running past the blocking tight end to hit the receiver upon the catch and take him to the ground in an instant.
- Fourth play: Lined up as an in-the-box safety in the middle of the screen, Johnson reads the give to the running back and then sorts through all the traffic, getting to the ball-carrier quickly stopping him for a short gain.
This is quite possibly the most important trait when it comes to being a standout defender. When playing in the deep middle of the field at safety, it is crucial that a player is able to read and react. Those high-level instincts that Johnson has make him a natural defender, whether it be at safety or linebacker in Columbus.
- First play: Lined up across from the slot in middle of the screen, Johnson correctly reads the player coming out of the backfield, shutting that down. As soon as that is taken care of, Johnson reads the quarterback turning back to the wide receiver on a short route, where he quickly breaks up the pass
- Second play: Lined up at deep safety in middle of the screen, Johnson sees the cross-motion and begins creeping toward the line of scrimmage. As soon as the ball is snapped, he reads the option, breaks up the mesh point and causes the quarterback to fumble.
- Third play: Lined up at shallow safety at the bottom of the screen, Johnson once again creeps up to the line. When the ball is snapped, he breaks on the runner, shutting down a large running lane and making it a short gain.
- Fourth play: At shallow safety in the end zone, Johnson times the snap, shooting right through the offensive line at the goal line. He hits the ball-carrier for a loss on a crucial down.