Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 20 JoJo Johnson, freshman cornerback, former Cincinnati commit

JoJo Johnson
Twitter | @NDFootball

Listed measurements: 5-foot-10, 175 pounds.
2021-22 year, eligibility: A freshman, Johnson has all four seasons of eligibility ahead of him.
Depth Chart: Johnson will be mired somewhere on the third-string or scout team at cornerback, but given Notre Dame has no firm idea of its current nickel back depth, he could find a worthwhile home there early on.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star prospect, Johnson was a longtime Cincinnati commitment, in no small part because of cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens. When Mickens joined the Irish staff after the 2019 season, he began recruiting Johnson all over again, now holding off other suitors such as Michigan State, Purdue and Iowa.

Mickens eventually won over Johnson a second time, to then Bearcats defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman’s chagrin and now gratitude.

No. 20? NOW?
Even after seeing Johnson’s updated profile on Notre Dame’s athletic website, an update that includes No. 20, it is hard to believe he will wear it. The Irish have another freshman defensive back, safety Justin Walters, also listed as No. 20. Assuming those are both accurate, Notre Dame will not be able to play these two players at the same time.

That may not be much of an issue in 2021, given they are freshmen and won’t see much playing time, regardless, but it limits special teams flexibility. For example, they could not both be on a field goal coverage unit.

Furthermore, it could be argued that building in an eventual number change for a player might cut into their hopes of image and likeness profits, as building a brand often hinges on consistency.

Lest anyone think the digits suggest Johnson will move to receiver, many of the same issues arise given senior running back C’Bo Flemister wears No. 20.

To think, Johnson wore No. 2 at points in high school, and that will now sit there, unused.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
To be clear, that branding argument is not made facetiously.

WHAT WAS SAID WHEN JOHNSON SIGNED
“Johnson spent most of his high school career at receiver, showcasing his speed but thus needing to develop his coverage skills, a task he can begin in earnest when he enrolls early in February. …

“Speed and quick hips can take a cornerback a long way. If/when Johnson adds coverage skills to his quiver, the Irish always seem to be one cornerback short, so there will be a role waiting for him.”

QUOTES
Now Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator, Freeman has been watching film of Johnson for years, getting to know the Indiana product while Cincinnati held his commitment.

“What a great young man,” Freeman said in February. “Extremely, extremely talented football player. Did some great things on a football field …

“Obviously, halfway through the year he reached out to us (at Cincinnati) and said that he’s going to decommit. He’s one of the best players in the country at his position. He’s a great athlete, … and he’s extremely fast.”

2021 OUTLOOK
Speed and a competitive mindset are buzzwords sought by special teams units — and special teams coordinator Brian Polian considered Johnson one of the most underrated prospects in the class of 2021 — so Johnson will have an early chance to impress the Irish coaching staff with some coverage tackles.

And if he shows a willingness to bring that physicality into press coverage near the tackles, then Johnson may have a future at nickel back.

Notre Dame does not have a dedicated nickel back right now, at least not to public knowledge. Finding a dedicated No. 2 nickel back should not be the top priority, but it will still need to be done this preseason.

DOWN THE ROAD
The Irish secondary will enjoy a cheat code this year with junior safety Kyle Hamilton covering for everyone else’s mistakes. As soon as that disappears in 2022, Notre Dame will need to reevaluate nearly every position, no longer able to ignore lower floors in search of higher ceilings.

That could work to Johnson’s benefit, particularly if he gets some defensive snaps this year.

NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
Let’s try this again
No. 99 Rylie Mills, sophomore defensive tackle
No. 98 Alexander Ehrensberger, sophomore defensive end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, early-enrolled freshman defensive tackle the size of a Volkswagen
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, fifth-year defensive tackle-turned-end
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, sophomore defensive tackle
No. 91 Joshua Bryan, incoming freshman kicker
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, early-enrolled freshman tight end, a former high school quarterback
No. 87 Michael Mayer, star sophomore tight end and lead offensive weapon
No. 85 George Takacs, senior tight end, ‘152 years old’
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, sophomore tight end
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, freshman receiver, four-star prospect out of Georgia
No. 82 Xavier Watts, sophomore receiver
No. 81 Jay Brunelle, speedy sophomore receiver
No. 80 Cane Berrong, early-enrolled freshman tight end
No. 79 Tosh Baker, sophomore offensive tackle
No. 78 Pat Coogan, incoming freshman center
No. 77 Quinn Carroll, junior offensive lineman
No. 76 Joe Alt, incoming and towering freshman offensive lineman
No. 75 Josh Lugg, fifth-year right tackle, finally a starter
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, junior offensive tackle, possible backup center
No. 72 Caleb Johnson, early-enrolled offensive tackle, former Auburn commit
No. 70 Hunter Spears, junior offensive guard, former defensive tackle
No. 68 Michael Carmody, sophomore offensive tackle
No. 62 Marshall guard Cain Madden transfers to Notre Dame, likely 2021 starter
No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, senior defensive tackle
No. 56 John Dirksen, senior reserve offensive lineman
No. 56 Howard Cross, junior defensive tackle
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson, the best Irish offensive lineman
No. 55 Kahanu Kia, freshman linebacker, Hawaiian, LDS member
No. 54 Jacob Lacey, junior defensive tackle
No. 54 Blake Fisher, early-enrolled freshman left tackle, starter?
No. 52 Zeke Correll, junior, starting center
No. 52 Bo Bauer, senior linebacker, #BeADog
No. 50 Rocco Spindler, early-enrolled freshman offensive guard
No. 48 Will Schweitzer, early-enrolled freshman defensive end
No. 47 Jason Onye, incoming and raw freshman defensive end
No. 44 Devin Aupiu, early-enrolled freshman defensive end
No. 44 Alex Peitsch and No. 65 Michael Vinson, Irish long snappers, both needed
No. 41 Kurt Hinish, fifth-year defensive tackle, eventual record-holder in games played
No. 40 Drew White, fifth-year linebacker, three-year starter
No. 39 Jonathan Doerer, fifth-year kicker, using the pandemic exception
No. 35 Marist Liufau, junior Hawaiian linebacker
No. 34 Osita Ekwonu, junior defensive end
No. 33 Shayne Simon, senior linebacker
No. 32 Prince Kollie, freshman linebacker, Butkus Award winner
No. 29 Matt Salerno, senior punt returner, walk-on
No. 29 Khari Gee, freshman safety, former LSU commit
No. 28 TaRiq Bracy, senior cornerback, possible nickel back
No. 27 JD Bertrand, junior linebacker
No. 26 Clarence Lewis, sophomore cornerback, second-year starter
No. 25 Philip Riley, early-enrolled freshman cornerback
No. 25 Chris Tyree, speedy sophomore running back
No. 24 Jack Kiser, junior linebacker, onetime pandemic hero
No. 24 Audric Estime, freshman running back, former Michigan State commit, four-star
No. 23 Litchfield Ajavon, junior safety
No. 23 Kyren Williams, junior running back
No. 22 Logan Diggs, incoming freshman running back
No. 21 Lorenzo Styles, early-enrolled freshman receiver
No. 21 Caleb Offord, sophomore cornerback
No. 20 C’Bo Flemister, senior running back, coming off an offseason with a smirch
No. 20 Justin Walters, early-enrolled freshman safety and likely early special teams contributor
No. 19 Jay Bramblett, junior punter
No. 19 Justin Ademilola, senior defensive end
No. 18 Joe Wilkins Jr., senior receiver, team favorite
No. 18 Nana Osafo-Mensah, junior defensive end, coming back from a knee injury
No. 18 Chance Tucker, freshman cornerback
No. 17 Jack Coan, graduate quarterback, Wisconsin transfer
No. 17 Jordan Botelho, sophomore defensive end, full-speed at all times
No. 16 Deion Colzie, incoming freshman receiver with both speed and leaping height
No. 16 KJ Wallace, junior safety, possible starting nickel back
No. 15 Ryan Barnes, early-enrolled freshman cornerback
No. 14 Kyle Hamilton, junior safety, preseason All-American, top 2022 draft prospect

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