C.J. Gardner-Johnson has immediately added something extra to the Detroit Lions secondary, and now he has landed very high on a list of the league's best safeties.
During OTAs a couple weeks ago, here's what Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell had to say about defensive back C.J. Gardner Johnson, who was signed to what looks like a steal of a one-year deal in free agency back in March.
"C.J. opens his mouth?" "Yeah look, he's got a contagious energy. And there again, I just bring it up, as long as it's not affecting your job, and you stay focused on the job at hand, I think one of the reasons C.J. is that way is because that's how he gets his engine going.- Dan Campbell
"And so in turn, that just spills out into the offense, or your teammates and you can't help the level of intensity just, it raises. "
Gardner-Johnson signed with the Lions off a season where he tied for the league lead in interceptions (six), and played in the Super Bowl with the Philadelphia Eagles. He is reuniting with Aaron Glenn, the Lions defensive coordinator and Gardner-Johnson's position coach with the New Orleans Saints for a couple years.
But apart from his talent, reviews from OTAs reflected how he's immediately adding an intangible something to the Lions' secondary. There's case for the team to consider signing him to a multi-year extension sooner as opposed to later.
Gardner-Johnson is an example of a modern hybrid safety/nickel cornerback/multi-faceted defensive back. But he's formally listed as a safety.
Lions' C.J. Gardner-Johnson lands high on list of NFL's best safeties
Doug Farrar of Touchdown Wire recently ranked his 11 best safeties in the NFL.
Gardner-Johnson is all the way up at No. 3. Here are Farrar's most pertinent notes.
"As a free-range deep safety in one- and two-high looks, Gardner-Johnson provided extreme value with his sideline-to-sideline range and ball skills."
"The 2022 season marked by far Gardner-Johnson’s most snaps at free safety — 443, when he’d had just 11 in his last two seasons with the Saints. He had been primarily a box/slot hybrid defender before, and he still has those skills — though all six of his picks came in the deep third."
"Still, Gardner-Johnson is more than capable of stopping a run play in the backfield with timed gap-shooting moves, and taking down enemy quarterbacks when the need arises."
It's fair to assume the Lions will be using Gardner-Johnson mostly close to the line of scrimmage, in the slot, etc., as he had been used prior to last season in Philadelphia. But he showcased the ability to play deep safety well last year, which only adds to his versatility as Glenn cooks up ways to use all the pieces he now has in the back end of the Detroit defense.