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49ers roster, 90-in-90 breakdowns: Dontae Johnson

Breaking down the 90 players on the 49ers offseason roster in 90 posts (over 90 or so days). Today we focus on cornerback Dontae Johnson.

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Each year, we run a series of post called "90-in-90" here at Niners Nation. The idea is that we'll take a look at every single player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few different ways. This is to help give everyone a basic understanding of a roster. Of course, this roster will change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not strictly one per day but Fooch is a crazy person who manages this blog with no rhyme or reason and it's worked so far. Who am I to argue?

Dontae Johnson was a bit of a surprise last season, earning playing time mostly because other cornerbacks treated the injury list like it was a Las Vegas nightclub VIP list. In limited play, Johnson proved he was definitely capable, returning an interception to the house and proving to be a more effective 4th quarter scorer than the starting offense.

A cornerback in the newly-desired "lengthy" mold, Johnson’s size is definitely attractive. While he has all the physical tools, an up-and-down 2014 puts Johnson in an interesting position coming into 2015.

Why he might improve

Johnson definitely showed flashes of a corner worthy of playing time. He’s displayed speed, running with the likes of Jermaine Kearse and breaking up a deep sideline pass. He displayed anticipation, breaking on an Austin Davis pass and taking it to the house.

The stats tell the story of a corner who played well, considering his fourth-round rookie status. According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson allowed a reception every 10.6 times he was in coverage. While this was in limited playing time, this rate is just as good or better than the likes of Lardarius Webb, Brent Grimes, and Perrish Cox. Comparing Johnson to his first-year peers puts him second, behind only Phillip Gaines.

Perhaps one of the more impressive stats is the rate at which Johnson defends passes. A pass defense means the corner had to put himself in a position to make a play, and have the technique to get to the ball without being penalized.

Johnson defended a pass every 8 times he was targeted. For comparison, Richard Sherman defended a pass every 8.1 times he was targeted. I certainly don’t mean to say that Johnson is as good as Richard Sherman, but at the very least they prevent receptions by deflecting passes at the same rate.

Why he might regress

Johnson started strong, but then seemed to go flat the more he was exposed. Three of his four worst pass coverage performances, per PFF, came in the final four weeks of the season. The final game against the Cardinals was by far Johnson’s worst performance. Johnson bit on a flea-flicker run fake hard, allowing Michael Floyd to run right by him. Later in the game, Floyd beat Johnson again with a simple inside fake then blew right by him for another score.

Johnson’s best coverage games came against the likes of Austin Davis and a rusty Tony Romo. While Johnson’s stats look impressive on paper, the small sample size could make them look better than they are.

Odds of making the roster

Johnson definitely ticks off all the boxes you want for a young corner. He is definitely capable of pushing for a starting role, so his roster spot is safe. Even if he doesn’t develop into a full time starter, he provides depth at a position of need. All in all, Dontae Johnson seems to be another mid-round Baalke special.