About one month away from training camp makes for the perfect time to learn about some of the lesser-known players on the Kansas City Chiefs’ current 90-man roster who will be vying for a final roster spot during those hot July and August days in St. Joseph, Mo.
Next up is Nazeeh Johnson — the final draft choice of the 2022 class — taken by the Chiefs in the seventh round at pick number 259. At safety for the University of Marshall, Johnson played in 10 games during the 2021 season, logging 67 tackles, two interceptions and five pass breakups. He will turn 24 years old on July 17 after spending six total years as a member of the Marshall football program in some capacity.
After beginning his collegiate career as a walk-on player, Johnson finished with a major statement as he earned the Unsung Hero Award for Marshall — an award made to recognize a singular player each season who was crucial to team success and received little notoriety for it. He also earned All-Conference USA honorable mention in 2021 after being a second-team honoree following the 2020 season.
The pre-draft testing process was especially helpful with Johnson coming from a smaller college program. Despite not being invited to the NFL Combine, Johnson made the absolute most of his opportunities at Marshall’s pro day.
One thing that immediately jumps out is despite being listed as 6 feet 2, Johnson actually measured in at just over 5 feet 10. However, with elite speed and explosion measurements relative to the safety position, Johnson has the physical traits to transition to the NFL level.
When Johnson first spoke to Kansas City media back in May, he mentioned playing the nickel and safety positions thus far during Chiefs practices. Watching his college film, it is easy to see why.
Johnson spent a large chunk of his 2021 playing time for Marshall aligned as a slot corner.
It isn’t ever the cleanest tape-worthy technique, but Johnson is a competitor who appears quite sticky when isolated in coverage. Even if beaten initially, throws from opposing quarterbacks need to be on point because his recovery speed is legit.
On the flipside here near midfield on 3rd-and-5…
would love to see Johnson hug the first down marker more pre-snap and trust his foot speed to do the work for him — never really has a chance to win vs. this route w/o QB being pressured. pic.twitter.com/GMWQdoaPe5
— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) June 23, 2022
With that room for improvement—especially technically speaking—the reasons Johnson fell to the very end of the draft do show up on tape. His body positioning both pre- and post-snap in certain coverages or when taking angles toward ball carriers is inconsistent. Perhaps this is due to thinking too much out on the field after the ball is snapped, but it could also have to do with not quickly adjusting mentally as he shifts from position to position throughout the secondary.
It will be on the Chiefs’ coaching staff to decipher whether or not he can handle multiple positions in their scheme — or if there is simply one specific spot he excels at. The Chiefs typically want their safeties to have some degree of versatility. Johnson shows it could be there — but jumping from Conference USA football to the AFC West in 2022 will be quite the leap.
Surprising was how natural Johnson looks near the box/working within trash. Provides a physical toughness element to his toolkit. pic.twitter.com/U9195zaiLL
— Bryan Stewart (@BryanStewart_) June 23, 2022
Johnson does check several integral boxes to becoming a mainstay on NFL rosters — some measurable and some not as easily detected. The Chiefs’ defense has taken a turn toward adding more physical, imposing types of players who seek to make their presence felt on each play.
While to a much lesser extent than first and second-level players such as defensive end George Karlaftis or linebacker Leo Chenal—Johnson demonstrates he is willing and able to throw his body around for the team’s greater good.
The bottom line
Johnson’s climb to making the final week one roster as the fourth safety on the Chiefs roster won’t be easy — but it also feels like his job to lose. Veteran special teamer Deon Bush will pose a challenge. If Johnson can outpace the likes of Bush by standing out on special teams and showing progression in his defensive role throughout the summer, he should become a much more familiar name within the fan base by winter.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has shown an individual interest in him early on, apparently — never a bad sign for a player’s prospects.
Could watch this over and over. Watching pro athletes be coachable and attentive is so refreshing. This was rookie safety Nazeeh Johnson today with DC Steve Spagnuolo working on, what I presume, technique at the slot corner position pic.twitter.com/wiYUpM5vb6
— Jacob Meikel (@NPNOWMeikel) June 15, 2022
Here seen working on footwork and press technique for his potential role in the slot — it’s evident that Johnson is ready to learn and grow however he can. Combining a player who possesses his athletic skill with intrinsic drive and want-to could become a tremendous thing for the Chiefs.
One thing is abundantly clear already — Johnson recognizes the valuable opportunity before him.
One could argue that the 2022 offseason was more about injecting the Kansas City secondary with youth and speed than anything else. Other cornerback additions — including first-round pick Trent McDuffie, second-round safety Bryan Cook, fourth-round choice Joshua Williams and fellow seventh-rounder Jaylen Watson — signify this.
If Spagnuolo can find two to three good, fairly significant contributors for his secondary unit by season’s end, the Chiefs defense may be rolling in a very positive way.