With Emmanuel Mosley, Jimmie Ward, and Tarvarius Moore all leaving Santa Clara Country for greener pastures, the San Francisco 49ers have narrowed their focus on another do-it-all defensive back to further bolster their depth in Lonnie Johnson Jr., the veteran cornerback/safety who most recently played for the Tennessee Titans.
“Sources: FA DB Lonnie Johnson Jr. has fielded interest from the 49ers, along with a few other teams,” Jordan Schultz of The Score wrote on Twitter. “I’m told he had a great visit with the Seahawks as well. Former 2nd-rounder and versatile S/CB who has a significant number of starts throughout his career.”
Originally drafted with the 54th pick in the 2019 NFL draft, Johnson has earned snaps at free safety, strong safety, outside cornerback, and slot, and has started 19 of the 56 games he appeared in as a pro. With 1,938 snaps on defense and 590 more on special teams during his professional career, Johnson is an interesting prospect who could serve as a utility depth piece worthy of a spot on the game day active roster, but it’s hard to imagine him filling a bigger role than that, as there’s a reason why the Titans opted against bringing him back in 2023.
San Francisco 49ers Fans Should Temper Expectations
As a former second-round pick, the prospect of signing Johnson may excite San Francisco fans hopeful for more depth across the defensive backfield. Unfortunately, as Shaun Calderon of Titans Wire points out, there’s a reason Tennessee haven’t been actively attempting to bring back the collegiate Kentucky Wildcat.
“Johnson is coming off a 2022 season that saw him record 11 tackles over 12 games,” Calderon said. “The former Titans defender also allowed a passer rating of 152.1 when targeted.
“There’s been no indication the Titans were ever interested in a second season with the former Wildcat, and considering the lackluster on-field results, it’s looking more likely that Johnson’s tenure in Tennessee could be a short one.”
So why, if Johnson was so lackluster during his run with the Titans, would the 49ers be interested in signing the fourth-year vet? Well, because at 27, there is still a chance the UK product recaptures some of the hype he had heading into the league.
Lonnie Johnson Jr. Was Incredibly Hyped Coming out of UK
Coming out of college at the University of Kentucky, Johnson Jr. was widely viewed as one of the more interesting prospects in the 2019 class. Unfortunately, his NFL experience hasn’t exactly lived up to those expectations, as Lance Zierlein of NFL.com once tabbed him a future starting cornerback.
“Long and tall with physical traits galore, Johnson looks the part but lacks the consistency and ball skills expected of a starting NFL cornerback,” Zierlein wrote “He has enough athleticism to make it as a cornerback, but he could be tied to a press-and-trail scheme where some of his coverage deficiencies can be covered up. His physical gifts could get him overdrafted, but he can become an eventual starter if he hones his ball skills and finds the right scheme fit.”
On paper, Zierlein is correct; according to Mockdraftable, Johnson is in the 90th percentile among cornerbacks in height, 97th percentile in weight, 80th percentile in wingspan, and 87th percentile in arm length, with a broad jump that ranked in the 87th percentile and vertical jump in the 75th percentile. With a comparison list that features numerous Pro Bowlers like James Bradberry, Nnamdi Asomugha, and Trevon Diggs, it’s not hard to see why teams would covet Johnson’s measurables. If he can unlock some of that potential under the watchful eye of defensive backs coach-turned-defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, John Lynch may have found his next steal.