The mandatory phase of the New England Patriots' offseason workouts is over – at least until training camp starts in late July – and we have re-entered the quieter parts of the NFL calendar.
However, while the football world seemingly turns slower these days it does not stop. After all, by late August, each team has to start making its roster cuts. Until then, players have to secure their spots on the team; they need to do their jobs (well) or someone else will.
Over the course of the next few weeks, we will take a look at the men fighting for those spots on the 2016 New England Patriots. Today, we'll analyze rookie linebacker C.J. Johnson.
Name: C.J. Johnson
Jersey number: 47b
Size: 6'1, 235 lbs.
2015 review: After moving from defensive end to linebacker in spring, Johnson appeared in 10 games for Ole Miss in 2015. The fifth-year senior made nine starts as an inside linebacker on one of the SEC’s most opportunistic defenses.
Johnson, who missed two contests during the season because of an MCL injury, had solid stats in his last year in Mississippi: he finished with 43 tackles (three of which for loss) and 2.0 sacks. Furthermore, he intercepted two passes, forced a fumble and recovered another.
While his numbers were not as good as they were during his days on the defensive line, Johnson still had a solid season and was invited to the combine. He went undrafted, however, but was signed as a free agent by the Patriots.
2016 preview: New England have two of the best linebackers in the NFL – Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins – at the head of the position depth chart. The rest of the team’s linebacker corps does not seem set in stone, tough, and Johnson could potentially take advantage of this situation.
The 24-year old did have a solid first collegiate season at the position, after all, and the more confident and experienced he gets playing linebacker, the more playing time he will see. Will he be able to do that this summer? That remains to be seen.
If he is, then his chances of making the team are not bad despite him being an undrafted rookie. His positional versatility – playing both on and off the line, playing downhill and in coverage – might be a key aspect, just like his performance on special teams.
If Johnson, who missed two minicamp practices, cannot take the next step or falls victim to the numbers game, then he should be a coveted practice squad candidate. As things currently stand, the latter scenario might be the more realistic one.
C.J. Johnson has had a solid first season at linebacker at Ole Miss. He probably needs more work, experience and teaching at the position, though, to make up for his lack of height, bulk and speed. Consequently, it would not be a surprise to see him get cut in late August, only to get re-signed to the practice squad later.