Instead of continuing to look at potential second rounders for the Falcons, this week we'll take a look at a player who is projected by draft pundits to be available in the third round. Atlanta owns the 22nd pick in round three, 84th overall.
This week's Mock Monitor shows significant support for Stanford tight end Coby Fleener, but to get some help understanding what kind of player Montana cornerback Trumaine Johnson could be for the Falcons in the third round, we welcome back friend of the website, Craig Vanderkam of Sideline Scouting.
The first thing to know about Johnson, known as "Tru" by teammates, is that he chose Montana over much larger football programs like Arizona State and California. Johnson immediately made an impact as a true freshman when he became a starter and led the team with four interceptions.
Johnson continued the stellar play through 2011, highlighted by his All-American season in 2010 when he had 44 tackles, four interceptions and two touchdowns and seven pass deflections. That season Johnson also showed ability as a returner on special teams. Johnson's ability has many scouts thinking he could be a third-round pick and potentially a second rounder in what is considered a weak defensive back draft class. The six-foot-two, 204-pound corner hopes to be the highest player drafted from Montana since 1995 when offensive lineman Scott Gragg was selected in the second round.
Vanderkam thinks the draft class helps Johnson's stock.
"It's a weak safety class so his versatility to play corner, safety as well as return kicks will help him," Vanderkam said. "There are a lot of good mid-round corners in this class but Johnson's versatility sets him apart from his peers within that tier."
The versatility of Johnson goes beyond being able to return kicks. His size and physical play make him a desirable for his cornerback potential, but many believe everything about his game paints a picture of a future safety.
"You'd probably want to try Tru at corner first because it's a more valuable position, but he looks better suited to play safety because of his lack of top end speed," Vanderkam said. "It depends on what the NFL team is looking for, but when he gets the chance to play zone and let plays develop he can be as good as any defensive back in this class. What sets him apart are his ball skills and tackling in tight situations. He is an above average tackler and will stick his nose into piles when needed. Safety looks like his future spot due to his lack of burst in covering in man."
Tackling and a lack of fear of sticking his nose in the middle of the run game defense are two traits that make Johnson high on some scouting lists. He has the necessary strength to complete the tackle and shows positive hustle around the field. His 14 career college interceptions is noteworthy and Johnson, a former receiver, has strong and sure hands and can usually come down with an easy interception on a mistake from the quarterback.
Vanderkam sees the potential in Johnson as similar to another cornerback that came into the league and switched to safety. Similarly sized and with similar speed, Johnson could project as a player much like the New Orleans Saints' safety Malcom Jenkins.
Many see the small-school label and are scared off, questioning the level of competition to effectively gauge a player's ability. Vanderkam says that type of mentality isn't true of scouts. Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff has already proven his lack of concern in small-school players. He currently has drafted two former Montana players, Kroy Biermann and Shann Schillinger.
"If you can play, scouts will find you," Vanderkam said. "They invest quite a bit of time and resources into any prospect regardless of
their level of competition. They'll have all the film they need to place an accurate grade on small school prospects. Fans might not be able to find a Montana game on TV all season but NFL teams have everything they need for all draft prospects."
The concerns around deep speed may be enough to push Johnson into the third-round area, where teams will look to take advantage of a bigger corner with an ability to cross-train as a safety. Teams look for that kind of depth and versatility in the later rounds and Johnson could prove to be a valuable steal for the Falcons at pick No. 84.