Pro Football Focus has been going over the players they think can become superstars but don't get nearly enough attention. Their choice for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: cornerback Leonard Johnson, who was asked to step in and play a significant role as an undrafted rookie last season due to suspensions, injuries and a trade.
Johnson showed some promise in his first year but, like most of the team, was very inconsistent. He had good moments with three interceptions, but he had many, many bad moments as well - most notably giving up the game-losing touchdown to the Philadelphia Eagles as time expired. Still, Pro Football Focus thinks he could take a big step this year.
Despite the name of this series, it would be a bit of a stretch to say that Johnson was a true superstar last season. Aside from the large responsibilities he had, he also made mistakes that will cost him in the future if he doesn't correct them. With 10 missed tackles on defense and special teams, he may need to bulk up his 5-foot-10, 200 pound-frame to avoid slipping off ballcarriers. But as Rahim Moore showed us this season, poor tackling is certainly correctable for young players.
To fully reach his potential this season, Johnson will have to earn back his starting spot first. Newcomer Revis will likely be on one side, but the other starting spot is there for the taking. Wright was nearly released if not for a drastic pay cut, and Johnson's experience last season gives him a slight edge on fellow youngsters Johnthan Banks and Anthony Gaitor. A year after going undrafted, Johnson's has shown success as a starter and could have a clear path back to that position. On a roster already brimming with young talent, don't be surprised if he soon earns the notoriety of his 2012 classmates.
Unfortunately for Johnson, finding those snaps may be a little difficult. Johnson was up-and-down last season, but Eric Wright was still miles ahead of him. I'd be shocked if Johnson managed to beat him out for a starting job. He may have his eyes on the nickel job, but Johnthan Banks likely has the upper hand there.
Although reports on offseason workouts are inconclusive on the matter, teams are generally not in the habit of sitting their top draft pick on the bench for an undrafted free agents with one year of NFL experience. Besides that, Banks likely is the superior player anyway.
So can Johnson win the dime cornerback job then? He might, but the Bucs have shown a tendency in offseason workouts to line up in dime situations with three safeties and three cornerbacks, with Ahmad Black and Keith Tandy fighting for that safety spot. Cody Grimm might be in the mix, too. Once again, that would leave Leonard Johnson with little playing time.
Leonard Johnson may be a secret superstar and perhaps he could develop this year, but he'll first have to find a way to get on the field. That may be harder than it seems.
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