Jaquan Johnson wasn’t a big-name free agent Raider Nation was likely looking for at the onset of free agency back in March. In fact, on the surface, it read as a depth/camp fodder signing.
While it may end up that way, the Las Vegas Raiders brought in a safety who can not only make a strong case for special teams ace, but someone who can earn defensive snaps in a pinch and pitch in when needed on defense. Considering Las Vegas’ depth isn’t quality, Johnson has a chance to stick — particularly if he’s in a head-to-head competition with incumbent Roderic Teamer.
Officially inked five days into the mad sprint that is signing unrestricted free agents, the Silver & Black brought in the former Buffalo Bills safety to bolster competition. The 5-foot-10, 191-pound 2019 sixth round pick out of the University of Miami spent the bulk of his time in Buffalo as a special teamer. But in 2022, the 27-year-old Johnson earned nearly an equal split of snaps on special teams and defense.
Appearing in 16 regular season games, Johnson started three. He also played in the Bills’ two playoff games this past season. In regular season action, Johnson racked up 32 total tackles with one interception and one pass deflection. In his trio of starts, Johnson played all the defensive snap with his most productive game being a 10 total tackle effort in the Bills’ 20-17 loss to the New York Jets in Week 8. Johnson also comes with postseason experience, something that’s an added bonus for any squad.
He earned 226 snaps on defense (22 percent of the Bills total defensive snaps) and was a mainstay on special teams with 246 snaps (60 percent of the units total snaps).
This is where Johnson making a strong case for special teams ace and pushing Teamer for a roster spot comes into play.
Johnson’s snap counts in 2022 are awfully similar to what Teamer earned as a Raiders last season. Las Vegas’ core special teamer saw 286 snaps on defense (25 percent of the team’s total count) and 269 on special teams (59 percent of the units total snaps). Teamer played in 17 regular season games and drew three starts and racked up 40 total tackles, two for loss.
Both Johnson and Teamer profile very similar as safeties. They are physical defenders who are fearless and comfortable playing deep and near the line of scrimmage. Both willingly throw their bodies into run support and aren’t afraid to mix it up or do the dirty work on special teams. Johnson and Teamer improved by lowering their miss tackle rate in 2022 (two missed tackles out of 32, 5.9 percent, for Johnson; two missed tackles out of 40, 4.8 percent, for Teamer). However, neither can call pass coverage their strong suite — Johnson allowed 112 yards and one touchdown while allowing a 96.5 quarterback rating last season, according to Pro Football Reference, while Teamer yielded 166 yards and two touchdowns while allowing a 119.7 rating. Which portends better prospect as special teamers and occasional run support for both defenders.
Where Teamer has the edge with scheme familiarity — having been with the Raiders for the last two seasons — Johnson has more career snaps on special teams (947) having been in the league an additional season.
It’s shaping up to truly be a may the best man win situation potentially for Johnson and Teamer. Especially with added help at the safety spot.
The Raiders did provide an infusion of talent beyond Johnson this offseason. The team inked probably starter Marcus Epps (Philadelphia Eagles) and drafted Chris Smith II (Georgia) in the fifth round of the 2023 NFL Draft. Las Vegas also signed Jaydon Grant (Oregon State) as an undrafted free agent. The four new Raiders join incumbents: Tre’von Moehrig, Teamer and Isaiah Pola-Mao.
Epps and Moehrig are likely the starting safety duo with Pola-Mao and Smith penciled in as the backups or third safety — since Las Vegas has a tendency to deploy three safeties on a given play in sub packages. But both Johnson and Teamer can make a go for snaps there too. But the ticket will be special teams, an area that Johnson and Teamer can dominate, but may have to fight off Pola-Mao and Smith.