Get to know Leonard Johnson


Get to know Leonard Johnson

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Leonard Johnson was signed last week, but there were a bunch of New England Patriots fans out there who were puzzled when they saw a No. 34 jersey playing cornerback on Sunday night against the Houston Texans. Had the Patriots cornerback situation gotten so desperate that they were forced to start the ghost of Shane Vereen at the nickel slot?

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Johnson played lights-out in his debut for the Patriots, recording a pair of impressive pass breakups. What stood out even more than those solid plays, however, were Johnson’s celebrations. In case you forgot, here’s a jig he pulled after breaking up a pass that ended a promising Texans drive:

So what’s Johnson’s story? Well, he entered the league as an undrafted free agent out of Iowa State, squeaking on to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster back in 2012. As a rookie, he turned heads by forcing a fumble and picking off three passes, returning one for a touchdown.

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The following season, Johnson trumped his 2012 tackle total by 18 and registered another pick-six at the expense of Matthew Stafford, as you can see:

When the Bucs switched to a Tampa 2 defense in 2014, Johnson was used more as a rotation player but still managed to get his mitts on a pass and force a trio of fumbles.

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As you can see, Johnson offers a nice blend of youth and proven experience. Before breaking his leg early in the preseason this summer, he had appeared in all 48 regular season games over the three years of his career, starting 17 of those contests.

The Bucs cut loose Johnson on the first day of September this season, and he’s been recuperating from that leg injury ever since. Fortunately for Johnson, the Patriots were in need of help at the cornerback position, so they came calling last week.

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It’s only been one game, but it’s clear that Johnson is an upgrade over the likes of Justin Coleman and recently released Rashaad Melvin at the No. 3 slot in the cornerback group. A corps of Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and Johnson is actually pretty solid. The Patriots will be able to defend anyone in the postseason with those three guys on the field, allowing the front seven to lineup in that lethal 5-2 formation.

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Welcome to New England, Leonard Johnson.