Chad Johnson: Longshot or sleeper?

Rookie free agent DB Chad Johnson has faced adversity to get to this point, but his talent, work ethic and character could give him a chance with the Vikings.

When the Vikings discretely had several players in for tryouts during their rookies-only mini camp following the draft, one of the players they formally signed was Chad Johnson.

No, not that Chad Johnson, the flamboyant receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals.  This Chad Johnson was a little-known defensive back from Northwestern State (La.) who hasn’t even played college football the past two seasons.

Johnson was heavily recruited (Arkansas, Baylor, Clemson, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas Tech) out of Evangel Christian Academy High School in Shreveport, La.  He ran a 4.4 forty, posted a 36-inch vertical-jump, bench-pressed 315 and squatted 515 pounds.  He started at Texas Tech as a true freshman at cornerback, recording 38 tackles, 2 interceptions and 4 pass breakups in 2003.  He moved inside to strong safety in 2004 and posted 27 tackles with one interception (returned 56 yards) in eight games.

Then his mother, Matilda, was diagnosed with breast cancer.  So Johnson, an only child, decided he needed to move closer to home to help and he transferred to Northwestern State (La.), which put him within 45 minutes of his hometown of Bossier City, La.  At this point, his mother’s cancer is in remission, so things have turned out well on that front.

But after sitting out the 2005 season because of NCAA transfer rules, the mid-semester transfer, and the situation with his mom, it all put him behind academically.  As a result, he was declared ineligible in 2006, as well.

Still, his coach at Northwestern State, Scott Stoker (link) speaks highly of both Johnson’s athletic ability and his character.  So does the athletic director at Evangel Christian Academy, Dan Moreman.

“At Evangel, our kids learn a work ethic and a drive to succeed,” Moreman said.  “Evangel is a school that will challenge students to pursue their God-given talents with all their hearts and inspire them to reach to the highest levels of success in that gifting.”  As a result, the school has sent seven football players to the NFL over the years.

At Evangel, Johnson helped lead his team to a 14-1 record and second-straight state championship in 2002.  A versatile athlete, he recorded 113 tackles, 5 interceptions and 6 pass breakups.  He also returned both kickoffs (16-389, 24.3 avg.) and punts (26-253-2TD, 9.7 avg.) in high school.

After petitioning the league for early entry into this year’s NFL draft pool, he ultimately signed with the Vikings.  In one workout at Northwestern, he ran a 4.39 40-yard dash, registered a 42-inch vertical jump and an 11’-0” broad jump.  In another individual workout, he ran a 4.68 into a strong wind and a 4.43 with the wind running outdoors on grass.

Johnson clearly has top-level NFL talent.  But he needs to settle in and be coached up to make it in the NFL.  His combination of speed, athleticism and stocky build offer promising potential at cornerback or safety in the Vikings’ Cover-2 defensive scheme.  The coaching style of defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and secondary coaches Joe Woods and Derek Mason would also seem to be a nice fit for the low-key Johnson.

He certainly remains a longshot to make the Vikings’ roster.  But if he shows enough flashes and seems to be “getting it” as they work with him, he could be a solid developmental player on the practice squad.

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