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Packers Look into Latest Safety/Corner Hybrid: NC State's Dontae Johnson

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Packers Look into Latest Safety/Corner Hybrid: NC State's Dontae Johnson

Entering the NFL Draft last season, no one knew if Micah Hyde was a safety or a corner.

The Packers weren't scared away by such ambiguity, however. They just saw an athlete: a player with the requisite speed to be a cornerback but the size and physicality of a safety.

Heading into the 2014 version of the draft, the same can be said of North Carolina State's Dontae Johnson. Ask him where he thinks he fits, and Johnson just classifies himself as a "defensive back."

"I feel like (teams are) looking at me both, some safety, some corner," said Johnson at the NFL Combine. "I'm just going with the flow, honestly. I feel like me being able to play multiple positions is helping me, is going to help me get on the field a lot faster."

The Packers have to be very satisfied with drafting Hyde last season. After an encouraging rookie year, they now have the flexibility to keep him at cornerback or play him at safety, wherever the need is most acute.

While at the Senior Bowl this past January, the Packers took the time to investigate into Johnson, trying to figure out what position he might play for themselves.

"It was a great discussion," said Johnson of interviewing with the Packers. "They picked my brain apart and tried to understand if knew my defense in and out from either position, corner or safety."

Johnson has almost equal experience at both positions, starting five games at cornerback and seven at free safety this past season for the Wolfpack.

When the Senior Bowl had more than enough safeties on the roster, Johnson played exclusively at cornerback during his week in Mobile, Ala. And considering his fast 40 time at the NFL Combine, perhaps that's where he'll stick.

Clocking in at 4.45 seconds, Johnson would appear to have the straight-line speed to succeed at cornerback, which is rather impressive considering his 6' 2" and 200-pound frame.

"I feel my length, I can use it to the best of my abilities, and with my abilities, I'm able to make plays on the ball that a typical 5' 11" corner can't make," said Johson. "Like you said, the game is transitioning to tall corners. I feel like my length is going to help me, and my versatility is going to help, as well."

Playing on a North Carolina State team that went 3-9 in 2013, Johnson feels it was hard to stand out on a squad that many overlooked. He was still able to make 81 tackles and three interceptions, and pro football scouts were still able to find him, being invited to the nation's premier college football all-star game as proof.

"It definitely was (difficult to get noticed)," said Johnson, "especially with the new coaching staff, transition, and the season definitely didn't go as we planned, especially for my senior year and all the other seniors as well.  But it's still one of those learning curves. Unfortunately it had to be our senior year, but the program can only go up from here. I felt like this was the learning lumps we had to go through."

Johnson is ranked as the 26th cornerback in this year's draft class by NFLDraftScout.com and a potential sixth-round prospect.

Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email carriveau@uwalumni.com.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (5) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

ben's picture

Dontae Johnson, Marqueston Huff, Dezmen Southward, & Daniel Sorensen are 4 of my favorite safeties in the draft. All rounds 5-7.

The only Dbacks I'd be happy with at 21 is Justin Gilbert(who I believe is a better safety prospect than corner), Jason Verrett(by far the best cover corner in the draft), & Deone Bucannon.

(Dbacks in order after Round 1)
Phillip Gaines, Jimmie Ward, Dennard, Keith McGill, Kyle Fuller, Bradley Roby, Hasean Dix, LaMarcus Joyner, Terrence Brooks, Reynolds, Pryor.

Nick Perry's picture

Ben, did you watch the Ohio State/Wisconsin game this year? Roby was eaten alive by Stave and Abbreaderis. I really hope the Packers want nothing to do with him. The Bears, Lions, and Vikings sure, the Packers, no thanks!

Stroh's picture

I'd be OK w/ Roby in the 2nd, but I would want him in the 1st either.

Stroh's picture

You believe Gilbert, who's a terrific man cover CB is a better Safety in the NFL? You do realize that man cover ability is a distinctly CB trait and Safeties in the NFL largely play zone don't you?

Gilbert is a great CB prospect and might be able to play Safety too, but why would you take his man cover ability and waste it at Safety?!

HankScorpio's picture

Johnson is right about the NFL evolving to tall CBs. If he does end up in GB, I'd love to see what Joe Whitt can do with him.

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