NFL Draft

Iowa State DB Anthony Johnson Jr. Says Steelers See Him As Versatile Safety/Nickel Piece

Are you looking for a day-three fit for the Pittsburgh Steelers in your mock drafts? What about a versatile defensive back that can possibly play safety and nickel? If you are looking for both of those things, you might want to consider Iowa State defensive back Anthony Johnson Jr., who had his pro day on Tuesday in front of a large Steelers contingent.

For starters, Johnson, who made the move from cornerback to safety last season at Iowa State, was put through his Tuesday pro day drills by Steelers defensive coordinator Teryl Austin while both head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Omar Khan observed. After his pro day was over with, Johnson had a brief media session and it included him being asked some very specific questions.

Johnson was asked Tuesday if the Steelers have told him how they envision him fitting into their defense with him being such a versatile defensive back.

“I think they’re gonna play me at safety and nickel, just as the versatility piece to be able to play high and roll down without switching your defense,” Johnson said.

Johnson was then asked what he thinks about the possibility of playing such a spot in a defense.

“Oh, I love it,” Johnson said. “I pride myself of being able to play any position in the back end.”

Later in his post pro day workout interview, Johnson was asked about the transition he made from cornerback to safety in 2022 being an easy one for him to make and why.

“It helped me a lot just with the coverage aspect of going against top outside receivers who are typically more well-rounded in their routes and stuff like that,” Johnson said. “To be able to cover the slots, who usually have speed and stuff like that. So, it was great for me.”

Johnson also explained how he thinks his demonstrated position versatility in college can potentially help him in the NFL.

“It’s something that they’re looking for, especially in today’s game,” Johnson said. “They want to be able to have a safety who can play high. And if they’re [offenses] splitting five-wide, a safety that can go down to nickel. I’m also a safety that can make plays around the box, so it can keep me on field.”

Johnson, a 2023 NFLPA Bowl selection after the 2022 season ended, was also a participant at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine a few weeks ago in Indianapolis. He measured in at the event at 6’0″, 205-pounds with 31 1/4-inch arms and 8 3/4-inch hands. In the combine drills, Johnson represented himself well as he ran the 40-yard-dash in 4.54-seconds with a 10-yard split of 1.55-seconds. He also registered a vertical jump of 37.5 at the combine to go along with an equally impressive broad jump length of 10’5″.

For his college career at Iowa State, Johnson registered 245 tackles with 14 resulting in lost yardage. He also had three sacks, two interceptions, 28 passes defensed and five forced fumbles in the 57 total games that he played in over five seasons. By the way, both of his interceptions came this past season.

With his pro day now behind him, it will be interesting to see if the Steelers bring Johnson to Pittsburgh for a pre-draft visit next month. If they do, it would increase his chances of being a day-three selection of theirs. The Steelers could certainly use a young strong safety with nickel position versatility to groom and from what I can tell so far, Johnson fits that need on many levels.

We’ll try to get a full draft profile of Johnson up on the site in the next week so be on the lookout for that.

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