Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry kicked off his offseason rebuild of the team’s defense in a big way with the signing of safety John Johnson III.
In 2020, a season-ending injury in training camp to rookie Grant Delpit put the Browns in an unexpected hole. They plugged that to a certain extent by trading for safety Ronnie Harrison Jr., but it took him a while to get up to speed with defensive coordinator Joe Wood’s scheme. A late-season stay on the injured reserve list also limited Harrison to just 11 games.
While the Browns will have Harrison for a full season this fall and expect Delpit back on the field, Berry was not interested in a repeat of last season, so he quickly moved to sign Johnson, who spent the past four seasons with the Los Angeles Rams, once free agency opened in March.
Now, as teams enjoy a summer break before the start of training camp, Pro Football Focus is releasing its annual list of the game’s 50 best players, and Johnson is the first Cleveland player to appear, checking in at No. 41:
The Browns acquired a player in free agency who should make a major impact on their secondary. Johnson has earned a PFF coverage grade of at least 80.0 in every healthy season he has played and has graded above 85.0 in the two healthy years since his rookie season.
Johnson consistently makes plays on the ball (averaging eight pass breakups in those three healthy years) but has also tallied 68 defensive stops against the run across his last two healthy seasons. There may be more spectacular safeties in the league, but very few are as consistently excellent as Johnson.
The release of the rest of the players on the list will continue throughout the week, but it seems fairly likely that Johnson will soon have a few teammates joining him in the rankings.