On Feb. 29, Jaylon Johnson arrived in Hall J of the Indiana Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis for the bench press portion of the NFL scouting combine.
Looking to bench 225 pounds as many times as possible, the University of Utah cornerback looked smooth in getting 13 reps up. He then powered through the 14th and 15th reps before racking the bar. The 15 reps did not represent a mind-blowing number, tied for ninth-most among defensive backs at the combine, but 15 is solid for defensive backs.
The important thing to note here, though, is not that Johnson got 225 pounds up 15 times, but that he did so with only one good shoulder.
Johnson has done a lot with that one good shoulder, which he told The Salt Lake Tribune last month he injured during the 2018 season. He played most of 2019 with a torn right labrum, a revelation that came to light on Feb. 24. He was named All-Pac-12 first team for the second time, not to mention an All-American with that bad shoulder, his 39-yard pick-six at Washington standing as arguably the biggest play of Utah’s 11-3 season.
Johnson went through the full gamut of combine activities, including a 4.5 40-yard dash, then had surgery to repair that torn right labrum on March 4. Since surgery, Johnson’s draft stock has only improved. At this point, the expectation is that the Fresno, Calif., native will be selected in the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday evening.
“Everything Jaylon went through puts a good light on him,” Doug Hendrickson, Johnson’s agent with the Los Angeles-based Wasserman agency, told The Tribune last week. “He played through the whole thing, which is a testament to who this kid is. Shutting it down or surgery at the time were never really options.
“He went to Utah to get out in three years and he did it the right way, which doesn’t happen a lot. He didn’t complain about the shoulder, he didn’t talk about it.”
All times MDT
Thursday, 6 p.m. • Round 1
Friday, 5 p.m. • Rounds 2-3
Saturday, 10 a.m. • Rounds 4-7
TV • ESPN, NFL Network, Ch. 4
For Johnson, the combine was critical.
“I knew [Utah’s] pro day wasn’t going to happen, so I had to do everything I could at the combine because I wouldn’t have another shot. I think everything worked out and I’m in a good position. Some guys didn’t have the combine and needed their pro days, which didn’t happen.”
From the combine, Hendrickson accompanied Johnson to Vail, Colo., for surgery, which was performed by Dr. Peter Millet. They stayed in Vail for about a week before Johnson headed back to Salt Lake City. Once the University of Utah closed campus coming off spring break in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Johnson went home to Fresno, where he has remained.
His primary focus has been rehabbing the shoulder, whose timeline has not budged from the original 4-5 months. If the NFL calendar remains intact, a huge question mark at the moment given COVID-19 concerns, Johnson would be healthy for his first NFL training camp.
Ironically, Johnson may actually benefit from a delay because it would simply give the shoulder more time to heal coming off surgery and the accompanying long layoff from football activities.
In the interim, after meeting with 25 teams at the combine, Johnson has met with 18 over FaceTime or Zoom in the past month according to Hendrickson, who noted that roughly 90% of those 18 virtual meetings included head coaches and/or general managers.
“The only thing I’ve really been worried about is taking the interviews seriously,” Johnson said. “I’ve tried to be as well-prepared as possible and ready for any question they might ask me. I’m trying to keep a positive mindset about everything.”
Asked if he expects Johnson to be selected in the first round, Hendrickson said: “I would be surprised if he’s not. When you play at Utah, or a smaller school, you can get lost in the shuffle of the SEC and others. He was no secret to GMs throughout the season, and I think a lot of other people are figuring that out now.”
This year’s cornerback draft class is particularly deep. Ohio State junior Jeff Okudah is universally considered the top cornerback available and is expected to be off the board by the fourth overall pick.
Beyond Okudah, Florida junior CJ Henderson and LSU senior Kristian Fulton could be taken within the first 20 picks before Johnson enters the conversation, potentially as early as No. 22 to the Minnesota Vikings.