From Sulligent, Ala., to the NFL, Rashad Johnson feels like a walk-on all over again. Johnson, a safety and former walk-on at Alabama who became the Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year, was the Cardinals' third-round pick (95th overall) in Sunday’s NFL Draft.
From Sulligent, Ala., to the NFL, Rashad Johnson feels like a walk-on all over again.
Johnson, a safety and former walk-on at Alabama who became the Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year, was the Cardinals' third-round pick (95th overall) in Sunday’s NFL Draft.
Shortly thereafter, the Cards continued to bolster their secondary when they grabbed 24-year-old cornerback Greg Toler from Division II St. Pauls College with their fourth-round pick.
Toler could have garnered Division I interest, but poor academics prevented him from being sought after by major colleges. Toler wound up working at JCPenney, living at home and playing with the D.C. Explosion in a semipro league until St. Pauls noticed the 5-foot-11 cornerback.
After a couple picks at unexpected positions, the Cardinals added LSU guard Herman Johnson in the fifth round (167th overall). The 6-foot-7, 367-pound Johnson started the final 38 games of his college career, primarily at left guard, and was a two-time all-SEC first team lineman.
Johnson is the biggest player ever to play for the Tigers. He was delivered at 15 pounds, 14 ounces, the largest baby ever born in Louisiana, and was 6-foot-5 by age 14.
Illinois defensive end Will Davis was taken in the sixth round. A former wide receiver and tight end, the 6-foot-2, 251 pounder switched to defensive line and had a breakout season as a junior (12.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks) but struggled in his senior season while dealing with an ankle injury.
Running back LaRod Stephens-Howling from Pittsburgh went in the 7th round, and the 5-foot-7 tailback/kick returner was emotional in talking about overcoming his lack of size to be drafted. Offensive linemanTrevor Canfield from Cincinnati was the team's final compensation pick at No. 254.
For Rashad Johnson, Arizona is a long way from Sulligent, a town the 5-foot-11, 205-pound Johnson estimated at "1,500 people at the most." But he sounded unfazed by the journey he’s about to make, mostly because he’s made this kind of leap before.
Johnson was part of a high school graduating class of 54 and though the former running back drew interest from a couple Division II schools, "it just wasn’t where I thought I should be."
So he walked on at Alabama under former coach Mike Shula. Johnson redshirted as a freshman and eventually thrived on special teams while he converted to free safety.
After Nick Saban replaced Shula, Johnson became a starter. He was a two-time all-SEC defender. As a senior, he posted 89 tackles (60 solo), 11 pass deflections and returned two of his five interceptions for touchdowns as the Crimson Tide defense finished third in the nation (263.5 yards per game).
Despite his father being 6-foot-5, Johnson has always had a slender frame which, along with a 2008 arrest for disorderly conduct, may have contributed to him being a second-day selection. But the Cardinals liked his ball-hawking skills, intellect and personality.
"Saban told us that he’s one of the smartest players he has ever coached, which means a lot because Coach Saban is secondary-oriented, defense-oriented," Cardinals defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "For (Johnson) to be one of the smartest (Saban) has been around, as far as football intelligence, instincts, range, those things, the young man is a leader."
As is the case with most rookies, it’s back to special teams as a means for Johnson to make the team. The past four years are an indication that concept is nothing new.
"It was definitely a struggle, day in and day out, showing who you are, showing the player you are, on the field and off the field, and competing every time," Johnson said. "I think there’s no difference here on the NFL level."