The Nico Johnson Debate Part 2


LM: Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the Chiefs selecting Nico Johnson with the  99th pick in the draft is… all the good players they passed up to take him instead.

The first one that comes to mind is Safety Shamarko Thomas taken 12 picks later by the Pittsburgh Steelers. In Pittsburgh they are hailing Thomas as the next Troy P. He was a three year starter and actually started more games in his junior and a senior seasons (23) than Nico Johnson started in his four years at Alabama (20). Thomas had two interceptions as a senior with 3 forced fumbles and 85 tackles (that’s 6.5 tackles per game if you’re keeping score). His 4.38 40 and ball hawking skills should make any fan think twice.

Other prospects the Chiefs passed on to take Nico Johnson include: Khaseem Greene, Jordan Poyer, DT Jesse Williams (Alabama), Barrett Jones (Alabama), C Brain Schwenke, or Oday Oboushi.

Quinton Patton is a 4.4 40 wideout who was taken 29 picks later by the San Francisco 49ers and was rated the 58th best prospect in this draft by NFLDraftScout and CBS Sports. When fans ask me where I get off making “my” evaluations more important than the Chiefs leadership I say I don’t have to… I can use highly successful teams as good examples. I think the 49ers and the Steelers qualify.

Plus, it all leads me to wonder how faithful Andy Reid and John Dorsey were to their own draft boards because it looks like what they were really doing was drafting for need while simultaneously misevaluating a potential prospect.

SDS: There are quite a few assumptions at work here, Mr. Morse. It’s your contention that the Chiefs added insult to injury by drafting Nico Johnson and subsequently forfeiting the right to select a better player there (like Shamarko Thomas). That assumes that Thomas will be the superior player in the NFL and there’s currently not much information available to substantiate that claim. It also assumes that Thomas was rated ahead of Johnson on the Chiefs’ big board. A third, less apparent assumption surfaces once you consider the first two. The idea that general manager John Dorsey was unfaithful to his board suggests that his “best player available” mantra doesn’t also take positional need and value into consideration. There is entirely too much behind the curtain to establish any of that.

All of this talk about missing on a prospect ignores the fourth round elephant in the room. According to the “Day Three of the Draft” article on Draft Metrics, players drafted in this round only have a 1-in-6 chance of being five-year starters in the NFL anyway.

What’s wrong with taking a “developmental player” there? This study also suggests the rate of success for linebacker is higher than it is for the safety position. In fact, it has the second-highest success rate behind the center position. That data shrinks your list of would-be alternatives to just two players (Barrett Jones and Brian Schwenke).

LM: All right Mr. Smith, you’re making a load of assumptions about what I may or may not have said. What I am clear about is that there is nothing sacred about John Dorsey or Andy Reid. They just happen to be the next people hired by Clark Hunt. Looking at a player that was drafted by another highly successful organizations following the Chiefs pick is a legitimate way to determine if the Chiefs may or may not have done the right thing.

Using the information in these graphs to support the idea that — since mid-round picks don’t succeed all that often so we might as well throw it away on a developmental player — doesn’t fly.  Every pick is critical and there were others… not only plenty rated by media outlets… but other successful franchises that the Chiefs should be emulating or they’re just subjugating themselves. That seems to be what you’re suggesting.

One player many critics could agree was an all-round excellent college ILB, who was taken after Nico Johnson, was A.J. Klein out of Iowa State. Described as instinctual, Klein had 361 tackles in a 49 game 4 year career averaging 7.3 tackles per game. Rob Rang of CBS Sports says of A.J. Klein,

"… he became a starter in 2010 and was quickly a standout, registering 111 tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss and three interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), earning All-Big 12 Honorable Mention honors. He followed that up two more remarkably statistically-similar campaigns, averaging 116.5 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and another interception, each of which he returned for a score… Klein leaves Iowa State having tied the FBS record with four touchdowns scored off of interception returns. Named a consensus All-Big 12 player in 2012 and the co-Defensive Player of the Year out of the conference… in 2011, Klein has proved himself to be among the more consistent and dependable linebackers in the country… don’t be among those “surprised” when his success continues in the NFL, even if he winds up being drafted later than his production would seem to warrant."

SDS: Unless you’ve had a change of heart about linebackers who lack a coverage skillset over the last 24 hours, Klein (drafted some 49 spots lower than Johnson) is a bad example of a player the Chiefs can expect three downs from. Don’t take my word for it though.

Rob Rang, CBS Sports:

"Does not possess ideal fluidity for man to man coverage in the NFL."

Sigmund Bloom, Bleacher Report:

"Klein is not as good at mirroring offensive players in man coverage, where his speed and change of direction limitations are exposed."

Charlie Campbell, Walter Football:

"He looks short on speed and athleticism to be a pass-defender in the NFL."

James Christensen,

"Lacks elite change of direction skills for man coverage."

Joseph Person, Charlotte Observer:

"He is known more for his run-stopping abilities than his coverage skill."

He clearly suffers from the same afflictions as a pass defender. Klein isn’t comparable to Johnson in run support either. He struggles to bring ballcarriers down in the open field and has difficulty running a play down from the back side. He’ll also have a steeper learning curve coming from Iowa State’s 4-3 defense. I’m not convinced that he was a better option for the Kansas City Chiefs. Nico Johnson is an exceptional run defender and that will be his primary responsibility next to Derrick Johnson.

LM: “Nico Johnson is an exceptional run defender.” ??? Wow. I will let others decide for themselves. Here’s a video collection of some of Nico Johnson’s “Lowlights.”  If you still think NJ is an “exceptional run defender” after  watching this I will have to stop debating with you because I’ll know I am talking to the wind. The most surprising aspect of the following clips is that they were all taken from games identified as “Nico Johnson HIGHLIGHTS.” Highlights indeed. These are just a random sampling of Nico Johnson’s work on the field. After watching hours of his games I can say with conviction that he is not consistent and currently lacks the skillset or experience to perform at the pro level. Do I want NJ to succeed? Yes, absolutely. In fact, I hope Stacy Smith is right. However, I’ve been following the Kansas City Chiefs closely now for more than four decades and I’ve seen players come in and bust like Ryan Sims, Percy Snow, Mike Bell and Rod Walters so all I’m saying is… the odds don’t look good that Nico Johnson will make it.

SDS: Respectfully, I’m not sure I agree with much of your game tape analysis. Here’s my play-by-play counter-perspective:

1. Guard Will Blackwell (#60) was draped around NJ’s knees. I’m not sure he had a real chance to bend and achieve the proper pad level there.

2. This was a weakside run, Mr. Morse. I’m curious to know why you lay blame at Johnson’s feet for this. In fairness though, he will be responsible for back side help in the NFL.

3. Johnson was a non-factor on this play. In this instance, you’ll get no argument from me.

4. It’s tough to know who had coverage responsibility there. A case can be made that Dont’a Hightower allowed that reception. At least Johnson eventually made the stop.

5. This is a rather curious analysis here. Johnson had an offensive lineman latch onto his back seconds after the ball was snapped. I would hardly call that “overrunning” the play. It should also be noted that the aforementioned offensive lineman who “pancaked” him was not the right guard, it was actually the center P.J. Lonergan.

6. There’s plenty of blame to go around on this defensive play. There were at least two defensive lineman who were mauled at the point, the outside backer overran the play, and  Hightower (like Johnson) also took a bad angle. Johnson did get cut there and that took him completely out of the play. He definitely needs to share responsibility for this touchdown.

7. This is another situation where it’s hard to know whose man made the catch. Hightower was lined up over the tight end there. You could also make a case that the blitzing linebacker could’ve put a better jam on the tight end (who basically got a free release from the line of scrimmage).

8. Johnson either made a late read or had a delayed reaction to his read. A quicker read or reaction probably means fewer yards on that play.

9. The Tennessee blocking was superb on this play. Johnson was blocked and still managed to shed and made the stop. He could’ve shot his gap sooner than he did, but you don’t want undisciplined play from your linebackers. Sticking your nose into a line where everyone is neutralized, sooner than necessary, means 7-8 more yards or a touchdown if the ballcarrier is able to put a move on a defensiveback. Johnson still made the tackle.

10. I concede that this was a costly mental error on the part of Nico Johnson. This came at a crucial time when the Vols were threatening to score and get back into the game.

11. Being cut by offensive linemen is an area of concern for Johnson.

I’m noticing a trend though. You keep writing this simplistic narrative where Nico Johnson gets to be solely responsible for every positive play surrendered. This off-tackle run to the right (for a touchdown) involves several mistakes, from several defenders.

12. Johnson was nearly cut again here, but he narrowly avoided it and went on to bring the ballcarrier down. Have you nothing to say about Trey DePriest’s high-pad level that got him stood up and washed out of the play (which also contributed to the length of that run)?

13. Nearly cut again here, but he recovered quickly and pushed the runningback out wide, limiting him to just two yards. He got destroyed trying to make the stop. The play should’ve ended sooner, but someone other than Nico Johnson missed a tackle in the backfield. I’m sure you saw that though.

14. This was definitely Johnson’s fault. He got sealed off and that opened up a big hole for the runningback. I’m not sure why, but you keep confusing the center P.J. Lonergan for a guard.

15. Johnson wasn’t fooled by the fake, closed quickly, and limited the back to a minimal gain. What’s the problem here?

16. Both of the inside linebackers are culpable for this run.

17. Johnson gave up the inside there. That completion is absolutely on him.

18. Johnson was on the back side of this play. Trey DePriest made this tackle. The analytical devil is in the details, Mr. Morse.

19. Copeland won that battle for sure. Johnson needs to get lower on a play like that.

20. The defensive line was vaporized on this play. Not much Nico could’ve done to stop that.

21. NJ was a step late in coverage and it created just enough room for the back to make the catch and reach the first-down marker.

22. Johnson was on the opposite side of the field. The blame for this play should go to Trey DePriest and Deion Belue (for two missed tackles).

Of these 22 plays, I believe Nico Johnson is only partially or fully responsible for about 9 of them (or 41%). That’s not as compelling as you make it seem. He’s certainly not the perfect football player. There are areas of his game that need drastic improvement. I’m confident, that with a little coaching, he’ll be an asset to this football team. Time will ultimately tell which one of us was right about him.

This concludes our debate. Who do you think won?

Use the comment section below to weigh in and to share your own thoughts about Nico Johnson. This has been quite the experience for both Ladner and I. It’s all been in good fun and we hope you enjoyed our exchange. You may see us square off again in the future so stay tuned!

Until next time, Addicts!