NEW YORK - DECEMBER 30: Jacques Washington #10 and Leonard Johnson #23 of the Iowa State Cyclones break up a pass intended for Brandon Coleman #17 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights during the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on December 30, 2011 in the Bronx Borough of New York City. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
One of the more intriguing players to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent is cornerback Leonard Johnson out of Iowa State. Let's look at a few scouting reports on the player
Impression: A well-built kid lacking ideal height, but plays fast and I like his footwork and balance. Isn't a dynamic athlete, but can play some press and off coverage, and looks capable of getting playing time both on the outside and in the slot at the next level.
After being ejected from a game for a late hit as a freshman, Johnson quickly matured into vocal and by-example team leader. He finished that season well enough to earn Freshman All-American honors as a kick returner (26.4-yard average) and has been a starting cornerback ever since. Johnson is a quick-twitch athlete with great speed the right attitude to play corner. His most dramatic performance was a key to Iowa State's upset victory over then No. 2-ranked Oklahoma State. His job was to cover two-time Biletnikoff Award winner Justin Blackmon, rated as the best receiver in this draft. Blackmon had one of his least productive games as Johnson held him to 99 yards receiving and snagged a big interception in
the third quarter. At the Combine, medics reportedly said there were no long-term effects of neck injury last October, however his unofficial 40-yard time of 4.71 seconds didn't do him any favors. Johnson's career numbers include 39 starts in 50 games, 247 tackles (eight for a loss) and six interceptions. He can help anybody immediately as a kickoff returner.
Strengths: Scheme diverse, comfortable playing press, off, and zone - Near perfect hand technique in press - Reads routes quickly in zone, smart about choosing when to jump routes - Plays very balanced - Makes up for lack of second gear with fluid hips and fantastic acceleration - Locates the ball quickly in man - Willing to come and support the run, adept at causing fumbles - OSU WR Justin Blackmon told me Johnson was "the most physical corner I've faced this season" - Has excelled against the top competition and in big spots - Extremely confident, plays with little memory.
Weaknesses: Can improve tackling technique - Has difficulty shedding big WR's while supporting the run - Decent hands at best, very small sized hands - Struggles with jump balls against taller WR's, doesn't have ideal height and has very short arms - Doesn't have great timed speed.
Positives -- Looks comfortable playing in both zone or man coverage, is scheme diverse but could flourish in a zone system... Shows the ability to stay balanced with his footwork into his drops, has some good bend in his back pedal and can transition to turn and run quickly, is always under control in coverage... Can be physical when needed during press coverage situations... Always covered the opponents' best wide receiver, plays up to his competition, has good anticipation on routes and is able to cover bigger receivers despite his size; Justin Blackmon and Kendall Wright have both praised Johnson's physical play... Pesters opposing wide receivers, can get underneath and has the instincts to play over the top in zone coverage... High number of deflected passes (26 in his career at Iowa State), has the knack for being around the football... Controls the secondary with leadership and hard-nosed play... Started 43 of 50 career games at Iowa State, including 39 in a row to end his career.
Negatives -- Poor deep speed, ran just an illness-affected 4.71-40 at the combine, rehabilitated his stock some with a 4.54-40 at his pro day, but matches up best with possession type receivers... His height will be an issue versus bigger NFL wide outs... Needs to work using his hands better in bump and run coverage, gives to many free releases on routes... Can get pushed around by bigger receivers, has extremely short arms and struggles getting off blocks down field... Can get too aggressive at times, has to control his emotions during the game... Despite a high number of pass deflections, had just two interceptions over the last two seasons... Needs to improve his ball awareness and adjust to the ball better... Arm tackles and doesn't always wrap up, is prone to missed tackles... Shows flashes of being a top cornerback, but needs to improve his consistency... Ejected from a game for a late hit during his freshman year against UNLV.