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 you get the idea.
We have hit the 3rd year of Dontae Johnson’s NFL career and at this point, we still don’t really know where he is. The San Francisco 49ers cornerback put together some decent numbers in his limited snaps during his rookie campaign, and also contributed to this gem:
But one season later, and Dontae Johnson was fighting for the starting spot with Kenneth Acker. It was a bit of an odd decision, though Johnson managed to wrestle the starting role from Acker for the last two games. In those two games, if you consider how the 49ers defense stubbornly would not adjust, Johnson was not awful. In the week 16 game against the Detroit Lions, Johnson had a very nice touchdown break up over Calvin Johnson, despite part of the success being on the throw from Matthew Stafford. His overall numbers weren’t anything to write home about, but they weren’t infuriating either.
And that leads us to week 17, against the then-St. Louis Rams. A game where Johnson made a key block on a Greg Zuerlein field goal. The kick was thought to have been an easy game winner for the Rams, yet the 49ers were able to take over and close out the season with a mixed reaction win. I say mixed because there were quite a few people who wanted the 49ers to lose to improve draft position.
Johnson finished with 29 tackles on the season and managed to put up numbers up for each game but the week 4 contest against The Green Bay Packers. He has the newly desired lengthy mold of NFL cornerbacks and it will be interesting to see if he can finally put it together in 2016. This cornerback group definitely has spots to compete for and Johnson will definitely be in the conversation with his experience and look.
Experience: 3rd Season
Weight 200 lbs
Johnson is entering his third year of his rookie deal. He will have a cap hit of $700,136 with a $600,000 base salary.
Why he might improve:
Johnson’s biggest two biggest issues have been biting on his first instinct and allowing receivers into the inside field. He has struggled with this since he was scouted as a college player. As far as him taking the bait, I wasn’t able to see anything that signified if he necessary improved on this, but I wasn’t hearing much about him attacking a run fake either; if they aren’t talking about him, that’s usually good. It’s hard with the small sample size we were given this year since he was battling Kenneth Acker for playing time. The same can be said for letting receivers into the open field. Most of his time has been keeping receivers near the sidelines and despite a few completions he hasn’t been horrid in that regard. If he can continue to work on following receivers and not letting them get by him, we can see more batted passes and solid coverage skills. He’s definitely been able to stop some big plays, hopefully some consistency will grow out of him and make him into the threat we hope he can be.
Why he might regress:
That might have already happened, actually. There was a lot of optimism from Johnson’s small showing in 2014, and the result was him not being a clear-cut starter in 2015. It’s worth mentioning Johnson’s numbers did take a hit the longer he played. His small sample size has looked good on paper, but the longer he’s been on the field, the further below average he sinks. Considering this is his 3rd season, he may be a player that has been figured out.
Chances of making the roster:
Johnson’s chances of making the roster will depend on where coaches figure him on the depth chart. Johnson will need to show the coaches that he can be a legitimate starting corner in this league, if he is unable to do that, and is again sinking on the depth chart, I feel the coaches will cut bait and use his spot to give one of the rookies some time. This is a developmental season and if they aren’t seeing improvement from a 3rd year, they have a full crop of shiny new cornerbacks frothing at the mouth to show what they can do.
On the flipside, he does make the occasional special teams splash so even if he cannot improve as a corner, he may make the team just for another special teams player.