Last week, the Jets signed veteran quarterback Josh Johnson. Today, we’ll be breaking him down in detail.
Johnson was a fifth round pick out of San Diego in 2008 and has spent time with multiple different teams in his career so far. He has played in 33 games with four different teams, including eight starts, passing for 1,632 yards and eight touchdowns and rushing for a further 394 yards and a score. He last played at the NFL level with Washington in 2018.
Johnson was a teammate of his cousin, Marshawn Lynch, in high school and ended up attending and playing college football at San Diego.
He made his mark at the FCS level, as he posted the highest passer efficiency in Division I history and gained some all-American recognition.
After a year as a backup, Johnson completed 70 percent of his passes in 2005 and won the team’s MVP award as he racked up 36 touchdowns. In 2006, he led the Toreros to a 10-0 start and into the top-25 for the first time in their history. He ended up with 34 touchdown passes and 11 touchdown runs.
In his senior year, Johnson focused more on his passing and racked up 43 touchdown passes, then won the MVP in the East-West Shrine Game as he passed for 78 yards and rushed for 103 in an impressive display. This led to him being drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Johnson didn’t play in his rookie year, but started four games in 2009. However, he lost all four as he ended the season with four touchdowns and eight interceptions.
He didn’t play much in 2010 but did get to make the fifth start of his career in 2011. At the end of the season, Johnson left the Bucs and he hasn’t lasted a full year with any team since that time.
From the end of the 2011 season to the start of the 2018 season, Johnson played in just three games and was sacked on his only dropback. Incredibly, he spent time with nine different NFL teams during that period.
2018 saw him sign with the Raiders but he was released after training camp. However, he finally got another chance for real game action again after Alex Smith and Colt McCoy were injured in Washington. Johnson was brought in to back up Mark Sanchez and replaced Sanchez when he struggled badly in a blowout loss to the Giants.
Johnson played well in garbage time against the Giants and then started the following week against the Jaguars, winning the first start of his career when he threw a game-tying touchdown pass in the fourth quarter and then drove Washington into range to kick a game-winning field goal as time expired
He started two more games, losing both, and hasn’t played in the NFL since then. He has spent time in the XFL and with the Lions and 49ers since his last NFL appearance but the Jets worked him out and signed him last week.
Now let’s take a look at what Johnson brings to the table, divided into categories.
Johnson is an excellent athlete, who ran a 4.55 in the 40-yard dash and posted a 33.5-inch vertical and 110-inch broad jump. His agility numbers were below average.
He lacks size and is currently listed at 201, which is 12 pounds lighter than he weighed at the 2008 scouting combine.
Although he’s 35 now, Johnson says he has kept himself in good shape and implied he feels as good now as he ever did.
Johnson has a reputation as more of a dual-threat quarterback than one who will air it out but he is capable of throwing a nice deep ball.
When he played in the XFL Johnson aired the ball out a lot more than he had at the NFL level, perhaps because he wanted to showcase an aspect of his game that has been overlooked as NFL teams typically played conservatively with him in the lineup. He had good success on downfield throws, completing 12 passes of at least 20 yards downfield in four games.
Johnson has also shown he can make tight window throws and put zip on the ball to throw outside the numbers.
Johnson claims to have “evolved as a passer” and suggests that he’s no longer the same player you’ll see if you put on footage of him playing for Tampa Bay while still on his rookie contract. Accuracy is one area in particular he cites as something he’s worked to improve.
Once again, this is somewhere he impressed while playing in the XFL, hitting his man down the field regularly, often into tight windows or on downfield throws.
He ended up completing 60 percent of his passes at the XFL level, but his percentage could’ve been much higher as he had 12 passes dropped in four games.
Even at the NFL level, Johnson has shown the ability to make anticipatory throws on time and on the money.
While he’s only completed 55 percent of his passes in NFL regular season action, Johnson was better than this (63 percent) in preseason action and once completed over 70 percent in college.
Johnson seems to sense pressure well and will escape the pocket as he can throw well on the run.
At times he will appear to bail out of throws under heavy pressure, but it doesn’t often appear to cause the ball to flutter or his accuracy to be affected.
As a young player, Johnson rarely threw the ball away and, although he got better at this, it has still been a bad habit he has fallen into from time to time as a veteran.
His ball security hasn’t been too bad, as he’s only lost three fumbles in his NFL career. He had one game in 2009 when he fumbled four times but otherwise has never fumbled more than once in any game.
Johnson is a good technician who has excellent footwork and looks balanced and smooth in his dropbacks. His passing mechanics are good too. Hopefully he can help the Jets’ youngsters in this area.
He throws well on the move has the ability to adjust his arm angle to get passes off when under pressure or having to create a passing lane.
Johnson has just eight touchdowns and 14 interceptions in regular season action, but when given more playing time, he’s shown he can be efficient. As noted, he set the all-time passer efficiency record in college and he’s had nine touchdowns and only three interceptions in preseason action and had 11 touchdowns and only two interceptions when he was in the XFL.
He’s become better at reading the defense than he was as a young player. This late throw led to an easy pick-six.
Despite these improvements, he still needs to be careful not to force things. On this play, the defender came through with a late pressure that disrupted Johnson’s sight-lines and caused an overthrow as he tried to adjust the throw. Forcing passes like this cannot happen, especially if you’re a hold-the-fort backup coming off the bench.
One thing he does well is sense when to take off, doing so decisively as he knows where the chains are, takes what the defense gives him and slides to avoid taking big hits.
Johnson came into the league as a dual-threat quarterback and presumably still possesses those qualities. However, he didn’t run much in the XFL last year. That may have been by design though, as he sought to showcase his passing skills. He did have one play where he avoided a sack and slipped a few tackles to get positive yardage.
At the NFL level, he’s a constant threat to keep the chains moving with his legs, whether that’s on a designed read option or quarterback draw, or by scrambling. He has rushed for over 40 yards seven times in regular season action.
Johnson keeps his head up well when scrambling to look for open men down the field and has proved that he can be extremely effective on RPO-type plays.
Johnson has not contributed on special teams at the NFL or college level - or in the XFL.
Johnson has signed 17 NFL contracts, so he’s played in a variety of different systems. He has joked about the fact that he’s essentially had no continuity since leaving the Bucs in 2011 and has been constantly learning new systems over the past decade. He says he recognizes that this makes him attractive to teams that need someone to come on board and learn a system quickly and that he just has to be the “smart-assed quarterback”.
Of course, Johnson was with the 49ers last season, so - although he didn’t get any game time - he does have direct experience of this exact system.
He’s obviously worked with a lot of coaches and players from that 49ers team, but he’s also briefly been teammates with the likes of CJ Mosley, Jarrad Davis, Ty Johnson, Ryan Griffin and Daniel Brown.
In addition, one of his favorite targets while he was in Washington was Jamison Crowder, with whom he had pretty good chemistry. He caught 11 passes for 211 yards and a score in Johnson’s first two-and-a-half games with Washington.
Johnson has usually been reliant on other players’ injuries to get opportunities at the NFL level, so he’s not missed time due to his own injuries. He did, however, miss a start at the XFL level due to a thigh injury.
Johnson could be a good mentor for the young passers on the Jets roster but he can also be an inspirational leader if called upon for game action.
When Johnson led Washington to that win in 2018, his teammates raved about the leadership and energy he brought to the game and the way he left it all on the field. He was said to have brought so much confidence to his preparation during the week that it felt like they were back to where they were before Smith’s injury.
Johnson has displayed strength of character that can also be a good example for his young colleagues. He says all of the changes and tough situations he’s faced have defined him.
A veteran addition to the quarterback room was pretty inevitable, although the Jets may still hold out hope that James Morgan and/or Mike White will prove in preseason that they’re capable of handling the backup role in a pinch.
Johnson was in a similar position in San Francisco where the less experienced Nick Mullens and CJ Beathard were ahead of him but they saw time and he didn’t.
Johnson’s stats and grades haven’t been very good, but he’s constantly been thrown into bad situations and you can’t help but wonder what he might be capable of if given an extended opportunity with decent personnel around him.
That’s not what he signed for the Jets for, though. Johnson is by no means guaranteed a roster spot but he’s well equipped to cope with the chaos of being thrown into the deep end in an unfamiliar situation and also could be a good mentor and role model to Zach Wilson and the other young quarterbacks on the roster.