BLOOMINGTON – All-Big Ten Indiana safety Jamar Johnson bypassed his senior year because he felt he was ready physically and mentally for professional football.
“I had goals this year, and I accomplished most of them,” Johnson said. “I felt like it was time to take it to the next level and go help a team, an organization, with a Super Bowl.”
Johnson could be the first of a few Indiana players taken in this weekend’s NFL draft. He’s not projected to go in Thursday’s first round but is rising up draft boards. Pro Football Focus recently ranked Johnson as the 47th-best prospect in the 2021 draft class, which would land him in the second round. Other draft analysts project the 6-foot, 205-pound Johnson to go in Rounds 3 through 5.
Part of Johnson’s value rests in his versatility. He played both the husky and safety position during his three-year career at IU and has high-end coverage skills. Johnson recorded seven career interceptions at IU, including a team-high four in 2020, when he moved from husky to free safety. In the 2020 Gator Bowl, Johnson returned an interception 63 yards for a touchdown against Tennessee.
“My man coverage is pretty good, so that’s why I’m able to go down there in the slot and cover fast, short guys,” Johnson said. “My range at free safety gives me leverage, too, being able to go and attack the ball, take the correct angles and get the ball back for the offense.”
Physicality remains a question mark, though Johnson has demonstrated an ability to create negative plays with four career sacks and eight career tackles for loss.
“The Indiana product has played a grand total of 796 snaps in his career between slot corner and safety, or about one season’s worth,” wrote Pro Football Focus’ Michael Renner. “He picked off seven passes, broke up six others and missed 18 of his 80 tackle attempts over those snaps. That’s a roller coaster of a profile. However, we’ll buy into that coverage prowess, as his tape is littered with special plays on the football.”
Johnson was invited to the NFL Scouting Combine and during IU’s pro day impressed NFL scouts by recording a 35-inch vertical leap and a 4.58-second time in the 40-yard dash. He’s spent the last four months working out at EXOS in Phoenix with other NFL draft hopefuls.
Johnson is one of seven IU players hoping to hear their names called this weekend, a list that includes wide receiver Whop Philyor, running back Stevie Scott III, center Harry Crider, punter Haydon Whitehead, defensive lineman Jerome Johnson and defensive lineman Jovann Swann. Johnson earned All-Big Ten first-team honors last season, while Scott was a second-team All-Big Ten selection. All seven players were integral in IU posting a 14-7 record and 11 Big Ten wins over the past two seasons. This past season, IU was ranked as high as No. 7 in the country, its highest national ranking in the regular season since 1967.
“We’re not just a basketball school,” Philyor said. “I’m happy that we got to change the culture at Indiana, and that’s what we did — me, Stevie, Jamar, Jerome, Harry, Haydon and Jovann, we’re leaving the school in a winning situation. We’re not the bottom feeders of the Big Ten anymore. We’re some top dogs. That’s what I’m most proud about. We’re a football school now.”
IU has had at least one player taken in the NFL draft each year since 2014, but haven’t had multiple players picked in the same draft since 2018, when tight end Ian Thomas went in the fourth round to the Carolina Panthers and linebacker Chris Covington went in the sixth round to the Dallas Cowboys.
Indiana offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan said quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is continuing to make progress in his rehabilitation in hopes of being ready for IU’s season opener Sept. 4 against Iowa. Penix is rehabbing from a torn ACL he suffered last Thanksgiving weekend against Maryland.
“Progress is sometimes day to day when you are dealing with coming off of surgery,” Sheridan said. “I feel confident in our ability to do some things fundamentally for him, to get him back throwing, get him back doing some of the drill work. It might be modified early on in summer, and hopefully as we get closer towards August it will be more towards normal. But we want to be smart about that. We want to make sure Mike is fully healthy and ready to go.”
Sheridan said backup quarterback Jack Tuttle took advantage of the majority of reps he received this spring and would be ready if Penix isn’t by September.
“He took steps forward, and I’m excited about Jack and his future,” Sheridan said. “He’s great. He’s proven he can be able to go into a game and win Big Ten football games, and I think he’s just continuing to grow as a player.”
Sheridan said Michigan transfer Zach Carpenter showed versatility on the offensive line this spring, working out at both guard and center.
“He’s an inside player,” Sheridan said. “He has versatility both at center and guard, and so we try to train as many centers as possible. If you can snap, we try to get you in there. It’s a position that if somebody pops a shoelace, you’ve got to make sure you have enough guys that can snap.”
Sheridan said what has stood out about the 6-5, 320-pound Carpenter early is his physical strength.
“He’s a very strong, naturally strong (player), and he works hard in the weight room,” Sheridan said. “His development in the next couple of months just in terms of feeling more comfortable and confident in the scheme is important, but we do think he has position versatility which is important. We do think he can snap and play center, and we’re going to give him an opportunity to start at any of those positions.”