The San Francisco 49ers went with a versatile defensive back in the first round when they drafted Jimmie Ward. However, the 49ers stuck with the versatility angle when they selected North Carolina State defensive back Dontae Johnson in the fourth round.
In selecting Johnson, the 49ers have found a guy who conceivably could play any position in the secondary. He came out of high school as a safety, but moved to cornerback in college. He's spent time out on the edge, but he's done a lot of work covering slot receivers. In a perfect world (at least in my head), the 49ers would be looking at Ward and Johnson as their nickel and dime backs. Eric Wright, Perrish Cox and Chris Cook will get plenty of chances as well, but I really only see one of them sticking around in 2014. If Johnson and/or Ward struggle in camp, I suppose a second of those three might stick around. However, ideally, we'd see Ward and Johnson handling the team's nickel and dime work.
Johnson stands 6'2, 200 pounds, and naturally got questions about whether he studied Richard Sherman and other bigger cornerbacks. Johnson was quick to point out that he had a lot of work to do to reach that level, but hoped he would establish himself through a strong work ethic.
Johnson was one of the now several 49ers draft picks over the years that turned down scholarship offers from Jim Harbaugh when he was at Stanford. Johnson is from New Jersey and wanted to stay on the east coast. He apparently did not specifically talk to Harbaugh about his decision back in high school, but it should surprise nobody that the top apparently came up during a Combine meeting. Coach Harbaugh does like to figure out why certain players got away!
Here is Johnson's media conference call transcript from this past weekend.
The first question is what position do you play? Have the 49ers told you how they envision you in their defense?
“They just want me to come in and just be able to compete. Bring in a great work ethic. Just get out there and compete and compete at corner. That’s just what I’ve been told. I’m going to go out there and play corner and it’s going to be great.”
Is that what most teams were looking at you as, a press-type of cornerback?
“Yes sir. I feel like a lot of teams were looking at me as a press corner. Just because of my length and my speed, which was proven at the combine by running the time that I did. So, I felt like a lot of teams were looking at me to come up and be that physical corner.”
Obviously the cornerbacks your size are kind of in vogue around the NFL. Do you study a guy like Seahawks CB Richard Sherman? What do you think of his game, or who do you mold yourself after?
“Honestly, Richard Sherman, he’s a great athlete, great competitor, but his work ethic has gotten him to where he is. The great success that he has came from his work ethic. Hopefully I can be half the man that he was and just bring that work ethic to practice. To compete every day in the film room, everything, weight room, anything involving the 49ers and just go out there and compete and just love to play the game of football. Respect it enough to where I do everything right on and off the field. It’s definitely an honor. But, going into a comparison, it would definitely be a great comparison to Richard Sherman, but I still have work to get there. I’m not Richard Sherman, I’m Dontae Johnson and hopefully I’ll hope to build my name just off of my work ethic.”
I threw Richard Sherman’s name out there, but are there other big corners that you kind of look to more than him?
“Honestly, I wasn’t really watching corners. I haven’t been watching corners that much lately. I played safety all of high school. Played the first two years in college and I got moved to corner. Then I started looking at corners. But, not so much as a corner. I actually studied a lot of safeties with [S] Brian Dawkins and [S] Sean Taylor and those guys, [S] Ed Reed.”
What kind of interaction did you have with the 49ers leading up to the draft?
“I had a formal meeting with them during the combine that went very well. I got to meet [49ers head coach] Jim Harbaugh once again. I had already met him through recruitment in high school coming out of high school when he was at Stanford. So, just reconnecting again with him. It was just a great, great experience. We talked a lot of football, defense and stuff like that and it was just great. I talked to them there. He came to my Pro Day and that was all the communication that I had with them.”
Did he offer you a scholarship to Stanford?
“Yes he did.”
Why’d you turn it down?
“Honestly, it was too far. I wanted to stay closer to home. That was the main reason, honestly. A great school, great program, great football, everything. Just wanted to stay a little closer to home. And now I guess I’m going to have to be making that trip since I turned it down the first time, which is pretty cool. I get to come back out there to California, which is great.”
Did you talk to him when you decided to turn down the scholarship and how did he react to it and then when you met up with him again did that come up?
“No. I actually did not reach out to him to tell him I went another direction, unfortunately. We talked about it a little bit in our formal meeting at the combine and then we just got right into football and pretty much everything that I can do to help the program in any way. So, that’s what we got into.”
Are you from North Carolina?
“No. I’m from Jersey.”
What part of Jersey?
“I’m from Plainfield. It’s close to South Plainfield, Plainfield area right close to Rutgers University. Close to Piscataway and everything with [49ers T] Anthony Davis being from out here. But, yeah in that same area.”
Do you know Anthony?
“I know of him. I really don’t know him in depth. But, I know of him from friends of family in the area that live in Piscataway, played for the area.”
How familiar or comfortable are you with lining up covering the slot cornerback?
“I’m very comfortable doing that. I have every confidence in my ability to come and play at the next level. And just my work ethic. I feel like my work ethic is one that wants to learn and get better. Whether it be at corner, nickel, safety, whatever position it is. I feel like if I have that mindset, I feel like I could succeed and it will work out for me at the next level.”
What is your major in college?
“I’m a double major in sports management and business administration.”
Are you planning to graduate?
“I graduated in December of 2013.”