Isaiah Johnson Should Help Raiders Special Teams Now, Defense Later

Isaiah Johnson doesn't have much experience playing cornerback. The career receiver converted relatively late in his college career, switching to defense before his junior season. Athleticism and instincts helped him transition quickly and perform well, but is still learning the position's nuances with each experience in the secondary. The Raiders see great potential in this cornerback prospect, which is why they nabbed him despite already having a cornerback in the draft class.

Let's analyze what to expect from this talented prospect during his rookie season:

Isaiah Johnson

Draft slot:No. 129 overall (Fourth round)
Position: Cornerback
Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 208 pounds
School: Houston

Skill set

Johnson has ideal size and length to play cornerback in this Raiders system. He's a big guy with long arms, also armed with the speed required to keep up with receivers downfield. He proved instinctive with his ball skills, compiling four interceptions and 13 pass breakups during his two seasons at cornerback.

Johnson also comes armed with a receiver's mentality after playing offense for so long, meaning he understands route concepts and anticipates where his man will go in the pattern. That also helps him defend what's coming, though there's still a lack of consistency playing the position that must be erased. He also must continue to refine his technique, which remains relatively raw and can get him in trouble at times.

Training camp proving ground

Johnson remains a work in progress, a point clear during offseason program work. He got beat decisively a few times during sessions open to the press, though Raiders receivers Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams can perplex even established cornerbacks. Coaches will work closely with him as he develops as a cornerback while facing NFL competition. That could set up a tough stretch, but he could get better fast if he applies teaching well and leans on great athleticism.

Best-case scenario

Johnson progresses quickly, his talent proves too valuable to ignore and he leapfrogs several to earn a spot in the rotation. It's unrealistic to expect him to start as a rookie, especially with Gareon Conley a lineup lock and Daryl Worley in line for the other outside slot. Nevin Lawson and second-rounder Trayvon Mullen also have a better shot, but there's nothing to prevent a rapid rise if he puts it all together quickly. He could end up the first or second reserve off the bench at outside cornerback if things go well.

Johnson's also a real asset on special teams. He was an excellent gunner in punt coverage, a spot where the Raiders need immediate help. Anchoring a gunner spot and adding him to kickoff coverage would really help the kicking game.

Worst-case scenario

Johnson struggles to find footing of any kind in the preseason, gets beat regularly and ends up on the roster bubble with a possible practice squad demotion. That would be a bad beat for player and team, though it certainly shouldn't be expected from such an athletic talent.

Johnson needs practices time and consistent field work to progress, and a preseason injury could really cut into that. His regular-season practice reps could dip, so this summer is vital to his long-term growth. Missing those opportunities could slow his development, which the Raiders hope to expedite.

Realistic expectations

Pencil Johnson in as an important special teams contributor. That's the type of immediate impact fair to expect from those drafted in the middle or later rounds. He takes pride in special teams work, and should strengthen coverage downfield.

The Raiders have a deep cornerback corps, so him ending up the fourth or fifth cornerback seems likely considering those above him. He'll continue to work on the mental side of his game, so he's ready if called upon for regular snaps in a game or more this season.

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