Jakob Johnson may not be a household name in the United States, but the New England Patriots fullback is enjoying plenty of popularity in his native Germany: despite playing an under-the-radar position in a comparatively under-the-radar sport, Johnson has received quite a few media requests after the Patriots’ 2020 campaign came to an end in early January and he returned home for the offseason.
One part of his schedule was an appearance on the Sportstudio podcast, with him talking about a variety of topics — from New England’s season, to the playoff tournament, to which teammate had left the biggest impression on him since he first arrived in the NFL two years ago. Johnson noted that plenty of players would fall under the category, but one in particular would still stand out among the others.
“There are a lot. The talent level in the NFL is extremely high. But one name, who may not be as famous in Germany or get much social media awareness, is somebody like Matthew Slater,” said Johnson.
Slater has been a fixture on the Patriots’ roster ever since he joined them as a fifth-round draft selection in 2008. While making virtually no impact at his listed position of wide receiver — he has caught just one pass over the course of his career — Slater has established himself as arguably the best special teams coverage player in league history. As such, he repeatedly has made impact play after impact play year after year.
The 2020 season was no exception: Slater again performed at an elite level and led the premier kicking game unit in all of football. Him doing all of that despite already being 35 years old and having a combined 213 regular season and playoff games on his résumé left quite an impression on his young teammate.
“He’s a pure special teams player and a team captain, who has been in the NFL for 14 years. This year, he’s once again an All-Pro, was once again voted to the Pro Bowl, and playing at an extremely physical position. And he’s still leading the younger players by the nose,” Johnson said. “Everywhere where speed and hard tackling is important you can find Matthew Slater. You can still see him make plays.”
Johnson has been a first-hand witness of Slater’s outstanding play over the last two seasons. After arriving via the NFL’s International Pathway Program in 2019, he found his way onto New England’s practice squad and later even the active roster. In 2020 — following James Develin’s retirement and Danny Vitale’s opt-out — Johnson took over as the Patriots’ fullback.
He also saw regular action in the kicking game: Johnson was on the field for 170 of a possible 397 special teams snaps over the season, the majority of which alongside Matthew Slater. Along the way, he has earned an appreciation for what the veteran has been doing both on and off the field throughout his storied career.
“It is fascinating to watch.”
Johnson and Slater played valuable roles on the 2020 Patriots, but their futures are still in question. While the German-born fullback is an exclusive-rights free agent and as such in need of a one-year tender sheet, the long-time team captain has not yet publicly declared whether or not he would be back for another season.
If he is, however, he should again be expected to see prominent action during the upcoming season — just like Jakob Johnson.