The New Orleans Saints have made an effort to add something the defense severely lacked in 2022 - depth in the secondary.
Notable free agent signings included CB Lonnie Johnson Jr., FS Johnathan Abram, and CB Troy Pride Jr. The Saints also drafted SS Jordan Howden and CB Anthony Johnson.
When healthy, the Saints have a strong cornerback core that has the potential to be a top unit in the league. Marshon Lattimore has consistently proven to be a top cornerback in the NFL. After Lattimore’s injury in week five, rookie Alontae Taylor rose to the occasion and made a solid case to be the CB2 in 2023.
Beyond Lattimore and Taylor, Bradley Roby and Paulson Adebo have the potential to offer solid depth at cornerback. Although both players have been inconsistent in the past, they certainly have a big role to play in the secondary.
The #Saints have signed DB Lonnie Johnson Jr. Here’s a little about Lonnie.— Jonny Camer (@CamerJonny) March 21, 2023
-Former second-round pick
-Had interest from multiple teams
- 6 PDs and 3 INT in 2021
Congrats to @Lonnie30johnson ⚜️. pic.twitter.com/3pWAKZa56W
All of this begs the question, where does Lonnie Johnson Jr., a four-year veteran, fit into the New Orleans defense in 2023?
Johnson was drafted in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans. He immediately made an impact for Houston playing fourteen games in his rookie season. Over three seasons in Texas, Johnson averaged 57 tackles (43 solo) and four pass deflections per season.
In May of 2022, he was traded to Kansas City and was cut in August In 2022. The very next day, the Tennessee Titans signed the cornerback. As a Titan, Johnson took a slight step back. This was partially due to a hamstring injury in November that sidelined him for a month. He recorded 11 total tackles (8 solo) and only played in twelve games, the least amount in his career.
The biggest strength that Johnson brings to this defense is his versatility. Over his career, he has played in pretty much every position in the secondary from outside corner to slot corner and even at safety. A versatile depth piece can be a massive weapon on any NFL defense.
The most likely spot for Johnson this season is at a slot corner, a position that Dennis Allen has been testing with multiple players in the offseason already.
Regardless of where he is on the field, Johnson’s greatest ability is his physicality in coverage. He’s not afraid to guard larger receivers tightly and aggressively, and his tackle statistics show he’s not too shabby at bringing opponents to the turf. He’s not the ball-hawking corner that will lead the team in interceptions. However, he did record three interceptions in 2021 for Houston.
INTERCEPTION ALERT— Texans Nation (@TexansNationCP) October 10, 2021
Lonnie Johnson Jr. on the pick!pic.twitter.com/2739Q7dbMD
In conclusion, Lonnie Johnson Jr. is probably not a starting-caliber player on a Saints defense that has an established starting secondary. However, his ability to play in multiple secondary positions immediately creates the possibility to have significant playing time as a non-starter.
Expect to see Johnson from time to time in certain defensive packages and perhaps have significant playing time on special teams or defense if the injury bug bites again.
Lonnie Johnson Jr. blocked the punt and just Forrest Gump’ed on into the tunnel pic.twitter.com/kbbOtA3Bdz— Wes Blankenship (@Wes_nship) January 12, 2020
How do you see the season going for Lonnie Johnson Jr.?
This poll is closed
Significant playing time, potentially as a starter on defense and special teams
Some playing time for specific packages on defense and special teams
Very little playing time
Cut or moved to practice squad