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2019 NFL Draft

STEAL AWAY: Saints Continue Better-Than-Expected Draft, Nab Top-Rated Florida Gators Safety in Round 4

For a team with a very limited number of draft picks coming into this weekend, the New Orleans Saints are sure having a better-than-expected result thus far after the first 4 Rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft.

For the 2nd straight day in a row, the Saints traded up to get their ,an; this time moving up a total of 11 spots from #116 overall to #105 overall after a trade with the New York Jets, who the Saints gave their 5th Round pick to in exchange for the opportunity and select University of Florida safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, one of the top-rated safeties in this year's entire Draft Class.

The selection of Johnson now gives the Saints two top-rated prospects from this year's class with both of their picks (and both from the SEC), following their selection yesterday of Texas A&M center Erik McCoy; whom they took at #48 overall after moving up 14 spots from the #62 overall spot.

Johnson was rated a top 50 prospect coming into the Draft process, but some "red flags" concerning his character and attitude, caused him to fall down most team's Draft boards. However, most observers and analysts believe that under the guidance of Saints head coach Sean Payton and defensive backs coach Aaron Glenn, that Johnson's future with the Black and Gold shouldn't be a cause for any concerns.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Johnson — the 6-foot, 215 pound Cocoa, Florida native (on the Atlantic Coast and about an hour west of Orlando) — exploded onto the scene in 2016 as a freshman, as he started as a reserve defensive back and special teams contributor (team-high eight of his 32 tackles that year on coverage units), but eventually started three times in 13 games played.

He tied for the team lead with three interceptions, two of which came in the Outback Bowl. He was named that game's MVP, becoming the first freshman to win that honor at Florida since former Gators RB and retired NFL Hall of Fame legend Emmitt Smith.

Then as a sophomore during the 2017 Season, Gardner-Johnson started all 11 games for the Gators, posting 58 stops, 6 for loss, 2 interceptions and 7 PBU's (pass breakups).  Then last season as a junior in 2018, Gardner-Johnson lengthened his last name from Gardner to honor Brian Johnson, or "Pops", who has been with his family since Chauncey was young.

Johnson used the name change as a source of inspiration and gave a stellar performance for a majority of the season, as he started 11 of 13 games played and made 71 total tackles, 9 for loss, 3 sacks, a team-high 4 interceptions and 2 PBU's. 

As a direct result, Gardner-Johnson received heavy 1st-round "buzz" leading up to the draft, until his alleged character / attitude issues were revealed at the NFL Scouting Combine, Obviously, the Saints don't seem too worried that it will be an issue for them moving forward, and the acquisition of the 21-year old is now being praised by a variety of different observers League-wide.

To that point, NFL'com Draft Analyst Lance Zierlein says that Gardner-Johnson is a big, athletic defensive back who some will see him as a big slot defender who can blitz, support the run, handle zone duties or play man on big receivers and match-up well against quicker tight ends.

But Zierlein notes that others might see him as a Cover-1 high safety with the range and ball-tracking to take it away over the top. Zierlein adds that if Gardner-Johnson has any one major weakness in his capabilities, it's that he often is a step behind in his reads and reaction; which allow pass completions that could be breakups. But in spite of that, Zierlein still believes that Gardner-Johnson's notable versatility and talent could make him an early starter with a high-ceiling if he can put it all together.

"I'm the most versatile DB in this draft. That's how I feel," Gardner-Johnson told reporters at the Combine in March.

"It's a big deal because you can put me anywhere. I'm not limited to one position," he added. "I can be used in base, in nickel. In the nickel, I can cover down in the slot, be in against the post, come off the hash and that half of the field. I can do anything coaches put me at no matter where I go."

It's expected that Gardner-Johnson should make his initial impact as the team's slot corner as a rookie later on this year; with Marcus Williams at the free safety spot and Vonn Bell locked in as the starter at strong safety.

But thanks to his notable versatility that the Black and Gold managed to "steal away" with the 105th overall pick; you can expect Gardner-Johnson to become a fixture within the Saints defensive secondary, for many years well into the future.....



Saints News Network featured columnist and Big Easy Magazine contributing writer Barry Hirstius is a 52-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 45 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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