Tyrell Johnson (FS)
With a perfect blend of size, strength, speed and field smarts, Marcellus Tyrell Johnson might not have garnered much media attention, but his numbers truly stand out against any other safety in the nation. He holds the Sun Belt Conference career records for most tackles (363) and most interception return yards (309), as he also established league records for most yards gained on interception returns in a season (142 in 2007) and most tackles in a game (25 vs. North Texas, 2005).
Johnson's 92-yard interception return vs. Florida International in 2005 is the second-longest run back in Sun Belt Conference annals and ranks fourth in school history. His 28 passes defended (13 interceptions, 15 break-ups) rank second on the Sun Belt all-time record list, while his 13 interceptions rank third.
At Rison High School, Johnson earned All-State and All-Conference honors in 2002, despite being hampered all season by a nagging high ankle sprain. He helped the team to a perfect record as ASU captured the Class 8AA title, adding All-District accolades in each of his final three seasons. He was a two-time All-Southeast Arkansas choice and a Marine Scholar. He rushed for 1,085 yards (7.7 avg) and 16 touchdowns, while returning 22 punts for 198 yards as a senior.
Competing as a defensive back and running back, Johnson had 353 career rushes for 2,725 yards (7.72 avg), including 49 touchdowns. He caught six passes for 120 yards and had 53 punt returns for 460 yards. He added 18 kickoff returns for 339 yards and one score, had three interceptions (returned one for score), recorded 20 tackles, forced two fumbles and recovered two others. He also lettered in basketball and participated in track and field for three seasons. He started on Rison's 2000 Class AA state championship hoops team.
Johnson enrolled at Arkansas State in 2003, spending the season adjusting to playing safety on the scout team. He took over free safety chores in 2004, earning Freshman All-American and second-team All-Sun Belt Conference honors. He finished third on the team with 94 tackles (61 solos), as he caused a fumble and recovered another that he advanced for a touchdown. He picked off four passes and broke up five others.
As a sophomore, Johnson shifted to strong safety, picking up All-Sun Belt Conference first-team recognition, as he was twice named the league's Player of the Week. He led the team with 112 tackles (83 solos), causing and recovering one fumble. He deflected two passes and had a pair of interceptions, including a 92-yarder, while averaging 17.0 yards on three kickoff returns.
In 2006, Johnson again led the team with 63 tackles (43 solos), earning first-team All-Sun Belt Conference accolades. He picked off a pass, knocked down four others and had a stop behind the line of scrimmage.
Johnson was a third-team All-American, first-team All-Sun Belt Conference and league Defensive Player of the Year in 2007. He placed fourth on the squad with 94 tackles (58 solos), including 4.5 stops for losses and two forced fumbles. He had four pass break-ups and six interceptions, returning one for a touchdown from his strong safety position.
In 46 games at Arkansas State, all starts, Johnson registered 363 tackles (245 solos) with 6.5 stops for losses of 31 yards. He caused four fumbles and recovered two others, returning one 55 yards for a touchdown. He broke up 15 passes and intercepted 13 others for 309 yards in returns (23.77 avg.) and a score. He gained 51 yards on three kickoff returns (17.0 avg.), 2 yards on two carries, 3 yards on a punt return and 3 yards on a reception.
Attended Rison (Ark.) High School, earning All-State and All-Conference honors in 2002, despite being hampered all season by a nagging high ankle sprain...Helped the team to a perfect record as it captured the Class 8AA title, adding All-District accolades in each of his final three seasons...Two-time All-Southeast Arkansas choice and a Marine Scholar...Rushed for 1,085 yards (7.7 avg.) and 16 touchdowns, while returning 22 punts for 198 yards as a senior...Competing as a defensive back and running back, Johnson had 353 career rushes for 2,725 yards (7.72 avg.), including 49 touchdowns...Caught six passes for 120 yards and had 53 punt returns for 460 yards...Added 18 kickoff returns for 339 yards and one score, had three interceptions (returned one for score), recorded 20 tackles, forced two fumbles and recovered two others...Also lettered in basketball and participated in track and field for three seasons...Started on Rison's 2000 Class AA state championship hoops team.
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Positives: Has a muscular, cut up upper and lower body physique with good arm length, large hands, lean waist, muscular legs and room on his frame to add more bulk without it affecting his overall timed speed...The most productive player on the team's defense, as offenses need to game plan for him...Frequently around the ball and has outstanding awareness, leaping ability and timing to high point the ball, come down with the interception and then elude opponents for a big return...Has the size and strength to dominate vs. the outside run, but must improve his wrap-tackle technique, as receivers have had some success sidestepping his low shots or when he takes a side (likes to grab or collide vs. his opponent)...Plays hard every down and takes care of business on and off the field...Will play hurt and is very accountable...Has the agility, balance and acceleration to close on plays in front of him (struggles to flip his hips and get back on the route in man coverage)...Comes up with key plays in the clutch and has a knack for slipping blocks and making plays in the box...Not as quick as you would like reading and reacting to the play, but will show good urgency to close once he locates the ball...Has just an adequate feel for blocking schemes, but can deliver a strong hand punch to push the bigger linemen back on their heels...Would like to see him blitz more often, but he is quick to handle the short area switch-off and keeps good relationship with tight ends and backs in the underneath passing game, generating enough force to reroute...Smooth in his pass drops, but must open his hips quicker when turning...Impact tackler who knows how to attack the ballcarrier's outside leg to stop forward progress...When he sees the ball in flight, he gets a quick break on it to get under and make the interception...Takes good angles in pursuit and has the body adjustment skills to compete for jump balls in a crowd...Has good top end speed to close on plays in front and will usually catch any ball that he gets his hands on...Can pluck and extend for the ball away from his frame and has very good balance and in-stride moves to accelerate past the opponent on his interception returns...Not used as a blitzer, but will come up and support along the line vs. the run...When he keeps his hands active, he is quick to play off blocks in run containment... Has the athletic agility to run laterally and clear trash to make tackles along the sidelines...Strong tackler who comes to balance well, when he doesn't duck his head before delivering the hit...Gets a handful of forced fumbles with his ability to collide, stun and wrap up ballcarriers with good explosion behind his hits...Simply flies down the sidelines as a gunner on the special team units and has a knack for hurling himself in attempts to break up the wedge.
Negatives: Despite his quickness, he struggles at times to get a clean break out of his backpedal...Does not have the second gear to recover when a receiver gets behind him... Appears more comfortable playing vs. the ball downhill than covering the man on deep routes...Even though he has piled up a good amount of tackles, he needs to refine his wrap-up technique, as he tends to collide or drag down the receiver rather than squaring up to wrap and secure...His weight room strength does not always translate to the field, as he struggles to shed, especially after leaving his body exposed for bigger blockers to latch on and control him...Needs to generate more power behind his hits and while he is good at avoiding blockers on the move, he doesn't have that strong safety mentality, where he will sacrifice his body to get to the line and clog the rush lanes (just six stops behind the line of scrimmage in 46 games)...Needs to make better decisions working in space, as he fails to follow the ballcarrier to the cut back lanes at times...Too choppy in his backpedal, taking false steps in transition and shows some hip tightness on his breaks...Might be a better fit at free safety, where he can roam the field and attack the ball (has marginal man coverage skills)...Must be more forceful with his hands when attempting to reroute in press coverage...Gets caught out of position when he eyeballs the quarterback too long, biting on pump fakes (lacks good recovery agility)...Plays with reckless abandon, but considering he lacks great redirection or plant-and-drive skills, when he over-pursues he is taken out of the play.
Compares To: ANTOINE BETHEA-Indianapolis...Like Bethea, Johnson is a bit of a 'tweener, as he lacks the bulk and size you look for in a strong safety and does not show the man coverage skills to play free safety. He is a good fit for a Cover-2 scheme, as he is more comfortable playing downhill than when parked in the deep third of the zone. He is a superb pass thief and plays with reckless abandon, especially on special teams. He does bite a lot on activity in the backfield and is slow to see the play develop, but does close with good urgency when he locates the ball. Look for Johnson's athletic ability, natural hands and timed speed to impress a team more than his lack of instincts and poor man coverage skills that could scare off a few other organizations.
2002: Bothered most of his high school senior year with a high ankle sprain.
2006: Sat out the Louisiana-Monroe contest (10/07) with an ankle sprain.
2007: Could not complete agility tests at the Combine due to right hamstring cramps.
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