The New York Giants already had a young cornerback room, and drafting Deonte Banks in the first round and Tre Hawkins III in the sixth round added even more youth. Leonard Johnson, a free agency addition in March, is finally entering his first NFL season after an ACL tear ruined his draft stock in 2022. Is Johnson’s career finally about to get on track? Or will he be lost in the shuffle of young Giants corners?
By the numbers
Contract: Year 1 of three-year, $2.695 million rookie deal | 2023 cap hit: $750,000
Career to date
Johnson was a four-year starter at Duke and missed only one game in his career. He graduated with six interceptions, 165 tackles and 24 passes defended in 47 games.
He was seen as a potential late-round pick entering the 2022 draft, and a near-certainty to secure an undrafted contract if necessary. But two weeks after Duke’s pro day, Johnson tore his ACL while training at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. His career was derailed, and he ended up spending the year working as a plumber.
Sports Illustrated had this to say about Johnson as a prospect:
Long-limbed, high-hipped corner with average speed. Johnson is pesky in press coverage with active hands and does not give up at the catch point, making late breakups. He is often late to turn and panics when the ball is in the air in man coverage. Johnson projects as a camp body at cornerback who could have enough intriguing moments to stick on a practice squad. His inconsistency in coverage, poor physicality and inability to tackle will make it tough to make an active roster.
Johnson told the New York Post that about 13 teams said they would bring him in for a workout once he was cleared, but none of them followed up with him.
The Giants signed Johnson this March to a standard three-year undrafted free agent deal.
It’s difficult to see a place for Johnson on the 2023 Giants. If he recovers from his ACL injury without losing any of his speed, he could be worth a spot on the practice squad as a developmental player.
Johnson was a versatile player during his Duke days, with utility against the run and as a blitzer. And the Giants have yet to find a truly well-rounded player among their current rotational pieces at cornerback. But there are a lot of them simply in number. That doesn’t bode well for Johnson.
None of the money in Johnson’s contract is guaranteed, and it’s possible that his tenure with the Giants could be short-lived.