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.
Drafted in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Dontae Johnson enters the final season of his rookie contract having failed to live up to the considerable potential that he had when he was drafted. Johnson enters this season competing with multiple other players for the chance to start opposite 2016 draftee Rashard Robinson.
So far in his career, Johnson has 81 tackles, 66 of which were solo, 14 passes defended and one interception. In 2016 he played a very minor role, making only 15 tackles and Pro Football Focus graded him at a slightly below average 67.0 in coverage. A good training camp performance could see Johnson open the season as a starter, but in the longer run, it seems most likely that this year, ultimately, will be seen as Johnson’s chance to demonstrate his capabilities to future employers.
Weight: 200 lbs
Age: 25 (26 on December 1)
Experience: 3 accrued seasons
Johnson is entering the final year of his rookie contract. He has a base salary of $690,000, is slated to have a cap hit of $790,136, and will count $100,136 against the cap if he is cut. Johnson is at once extremely affordable to retain, but also easy enough to cut given the 49ers’ current cap situation.
Why he might improve
As soon as the 49ers moved to the press heavy, Seattle-style scheme, it seemed like Johnson would have a wonderful opportunity to establish himself as a starter at cornerback this season and moving forward (assuming he signed a new contract).
With his size and wingspan, as well as his willingness to tackle, Johnson certainly possesses both physical and mental attributes that make him an attractive fit within the 49ers’ defense this season.
His versatility also stands him in good stead. Johnson has shown the ability to play outside and in the slot, as well as dime linebacker on occasion. With the ever increasing usage of sub-packages, particularly dime, Johnson offers a versatility that is fairly unique amongst the 49ers defensive backs. There are certainly ways that the 49ers could use Johnson to bring the best out of him as a match up weapon, such as in coverage on taller receivers and tight ends. We have heard some good things about him so far this offseason, and the competition at corner will be an intriguing one to follow as the preseason progresses.
Why he might regress
There was a reason that the 49ers went out and drafted Ahkello Witherspoon, who is of a similar build to Johnson. There is also a reason that despite the 49ers actually playing more press coverage than the Seahawks last season, Johnson was behind Tramaine Brock, Jimmie Ward, Rashard Robinson and Keith Reaser on the depth chart at outside corner as well as Chris Davis at nickel.
He simply hasn’t shown any consistency in coverage, especially in man to man. This inconsistency could of course be a product of the various schemes and roles that Johnson has been asked to learn, which would certainly have disadvantaged him and left him unable to play instinctively.
Notwithstanding, despite his length, he is yet to prove that he is an effective press corner and his struggles in man coverage do not bode well as the Seattle-style defenses increasingly shift to incorporating more and more man coverage. His physical traits do not and have not masked what has at best been an inconsistency in his coverage, and at worst been an inability in that area.
Odds of making the roster
Johnson finds himself in the fairly bizarre situation where he could wind up as a starter or be off the roster entirely based on his performances over the next month. Whilst his physical tools make him intriguing, his on field performances leave him facing a battle. Nonetheless, the inexperience beneath him increases his chances of making the roster.
Johnson undoubtedly finds himself on the bubble. A strong performance from the likes of Zach Franklin, Adrian Colbert, or perhaps one of the young safeties could see the 49ers part ways with Johnson. Despite competing to be a starter, Johnson probably only has a 60 percent chance of ending up on the roster at this point.