Height: 5'10" Weight: 212 lbs
College: Boise State
Drafted: Undrafted (2011)
Jeron Johnson came to the Washington Redskins in the offseason as part of a substantial upheaval of the defensive secondary. He was signed to start at one of the safety positions, but the trade for Dashon Goldson likely limits his starting options to strong safety, where he will compete with the oft-injured but experienced Duke Ihenacho.
#1. Johnson has one career start in the NFL, which has less to do with his own performance and more to do with the stellar play of Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor — easily the best safety duo in the league. He has a reputation as a solid tackler who excels on special teams, but only the Seattle Seahawks have much more information than that about the fifth-year player out of Boise State. That's part of the problem: Not only are Thomas and Chancellor incredibly good at their jobs, they also have this habit of staying on the field, which keeps players like Johnson off the field.
#2. You don't need me to tell you this, but Washington's defense was atrocious last year. According to Pro Football Focus, the Redskins were dead last in three of the site's five primary defensive ratings: overall defense, run defense and pass coverage. As for the other two, the Skins were 19th in pass rush and 26th in penalty ratings. Not only were they the worst defensive team, but they were the worst by a whole lot. The Skins defense was rated a miserable -135.7 in overall defense; the New Orleans Saints were the next worst at -104.6, followed by the Jacksonville Jaguars at -88.5.
Despite playing just 98 snaps on defense in the regular season, Johnson registered a 1.4 overall defensive rating, which was good for 10th-best on Seattle's vaunted defense. That number would have been sixth-best on Washington's not-so-vaunted defense. That doesn't sound so bad until you notice that the sixth-best Seattle defender (Cliff Avril) registered a 9.8.
Even more telling is who the top defenders were for the Redskins. It's no surprise that Ryan Kerrigan led the defense at 19.3, or that Jason Hatcher was second-best at 17.1, but how many of you would have guessed that Brian Orakpo (5.2), Trent Murphy (3.4) and Greg Ducre (1.5) were the next three? So yes, Johnson should be a marked improvement over most players the Redskins trotted out last season.
#3. With that said, it should be no surprise that Johnson cited the opportunity to start as his primary reason for coming to Washington. Though he has little on-field experience himself, he brings valuable experience playing alongside two of the best — if not the two best — safeties in the league. No matter what level he performs at, the hope is that he can bring some of what he learned from Thomas and Chancellor to the young defensive backs in Washington, as he explained to John Keim of ESPN.
"That was one of the biggest things in Seattle," Johnson said. "Everyone just trusted one another to do their job. That's one of the main things I would like to bring here is trust. It starts off the field — and togetherness off the field. It comes together on the field. It's a good feeling for everyone when you can trust the person next to you to do your job. All you have to worry about then is doing your job."
#4. Though Johnson and Ihenacho are locked in a battle for the starting SS job, the two young players have a healthy relationship. Both players were undrafted free agents out of smaller schools, they grew up just 15 minutes away from each other and neither seems particularly upset that he has to fight for a starting job, according to Mike Jones of The Washington Post.
"We've got a good competition between Duke and myself, and we're just trying to help the team," Johnson said. "Whatever he does makes me better, whatever I do makes him better. There's no bad blood at all."
#5. The Redskins signed the former Seahawk to a two-year, $4 million deal, which is a steal even if he's an average-level starter, but the deal is even more favorable than that. Only $350,000 is guaranteed, and if something goes horribly wrong in camp and Washington has to rid itself of him, that's all that would be lost. On the other hand, Johnson just turned 27 in June and will be a free agent again at 28. That means if he plays well in his two years in Washington, he's perfectly positioned to earn a massive pay raise right as he enters his prime with very little wear and tear. That's a big hypothetical, of course, but Johnson has the tools to do it.
Bottom Line: No matter what, Johnson will provide an upgrade to the secondary as long as he's healthy. The question is how good he'll be, and when. Even if Ihenacho and Goldson lock down the starting jobs, Johnson figures to be the best backup safety the Redskins have had in a long time, and the general consensus is that he'll earn his starting role and keep it.