Johnson stressing confidence, competitiveness at NFL Combine


Photo: Jake Lovett/Iowa State Da

ISU cornerback Leonard Johnson defends a pass to Rutgers receiver Brandon Coleman in the first half of the Cyclones’ Pinstripe Bowl matchup with Rutgers. The incomplete pass led to a third down, and the Scarlet Knights would eventually score on a one-yard touchdown run from Jawan Jamison that would put them up 7-6. Rutgers went on to win 27-13.

Dan Tracy

INDIANAPOLIS — Former ISU defensive back Leonard Johnson made it clear last season if there was an NFL-caliber wide receiver on the opposing team, he wanted the responsibility of covering him on Saturday.

“That’s the big thing with playing top guys: I always want the top guy,” Johnson said. “I’m a guy that always looks for reassurance so if you bring me the top guy every week then I feel like if I dominate him or I compete with him, then that feeds to my confidence.”

The two-time All-Big 12 cornerback hopes when NFL personnel see the film of his games against wideouts like Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon, Iowa’s Marvin McNutt and Rutgers’ Mohamed Sanu, they will give him a chance to face the “top guys” on Sundays in the NFL.

Along with projected first-round draft picks such as Blackmon and Sanu, Johnson was in Indianapolis performing medical and on-field tests and partaking in interviews with the media and NFL teams as a part of the annual NFL scouting combine.

Johnson, who had met with four NFL teams before meeting with reporters on Sunday, has focused on his toughness, his competitive edge and his man-to-man coverage skills when sitting down with the decision-makers of each team.

“I’m agile; I’m a guy who competes every play and every rep,” Johnson said “I’m a guy whose a hard-nosed, tough guy. … Also, I have great ball skills, and I can cover the best guy on the field.”

Off the field, the DeLand, Fla., native has expressed to teams the importance he places on family — Johnson has five sisters and two brothers — and on helping others, describing the youth football camp he held in his hometown back in August.

Johnson will also be placing an importance on athletics before April’s draft. Unlike many college seniors who choose to leave school before graduating to train for the draft, Johnson, a pre-liberal studies major, is training in Ames where he will finish up his final 12 credits of school and graduate before pursuing his NFL career.

“We have, I believe, one of the best training staffs put together so I felt more comfortable staying at school and just finishing up and also staying focused,” Johnson said.

On Sunday, Johnson measured in at 5-foot-10, 196 pounds. With the recent trend of many top secondary selections in the draft to be taller than six feet, Johnson hopes teams will look at his film and see his technique and effort before his measurements.

“Honestly, it’s all about how bad you want it,” Johnson said. “It’s not about how tall [the wide receiver] is, it’s how good I can use my tools to limit him.”

A self-proclaimed student of the game, Johnson enjoys the challenge of being asked by teams to draw up formations and coverages while in meetings with coaches and other personnel.

“That really gives me a chance to share with them the knowledge of the game that I have,” Johnson said. “I think by the coach putting me on the board it gives me an edge because I study a lot of film, and that lets my knowledge on the field come out.”

Johnson will begin his on-field tests at Lucas Oil Stadium on Tuesday morning at 8 a.m., when he’ll run the 40-yard dash. The player tests are televised on the NFL Network.