Impact Report: 2020 Safety Antonio Johnson

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    (Photo via Sean King/St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

    Every time Tennessee gets a commitment in either football or men’s basketball, we will write up an impact report looking at what that recruit does well, what he needs to improve in his game, and what his projected impact with the Vols could be over the next few years.

    Latest Commit: Antonio Johnson, S
    Height/Weight: 6-foot-2, 180 pounds
    School: East St. Louis (Illinois)
    Home Town: East St. Louis, Illinois

    Rankings
    247Sports Composite: 
    No. 161 overall, No. 11 S
    247Sports: No. 179 overall, No. 15 S
    Rivals: 5.9 rating, No. 83 overall, No. 6 S

    Notable Offers: Georgia, LSU, Texas A&M, Michigan, Penn State

    What we like:

    Jeremy Pruitt has said before that he likes to recruit players on defense who also play offense in high school because they’re used to having the ball in their hands and can think like an offensive player. That’s especially true for the secondary players that Pruitt recruits. Well, that definitely stands out about Antonio Johnson. He plays safety and receiver for East St. Louis and also returns punts for them. He’s a dynamic safety who has exceptional ball skills and is very instinctual. Johnson picked off five passes as a junior, and he consistently makes good reads and has a quick reaction time in his highlights. He’s a true ball hawk as a safety, and he can put down some huge hits on ball carriers, too. On offense, Johnson is very quick — especially for his size — and he uses his extraordinary vision to read and react to defenders. He has a pretty good vertical leap, too, and he can sky for jump balls and knows when to highpoint the ball. He’s also a solid return man, returning a punt and an interception for a touchdown as a junior. Overall, his awareness is what really stands out to me. He has some of the best field instincts I’ve seen on film.

    Areas to improve:

    Johnson is a safety prospect, so it’s not likely he’ll be asked to play very much man coverage. But from what I’ve seen on his film, he doesn’t do very much of that at all, and I wonder how good he is at it. He’s good in zone, but some of the throws he intercepts are easy passes to pick off that any defender with even average hands could pull off. That doesn’t take away from some of the other plays he makes or his return ability either, but I do wonder about some of the more refined aspects of his game. It’s likely he’ll be asked to play safety and not receiver, so I’m more interested as to what he brings to the table on defense and special teams rather than anything offensively. There’s truly not a ton to knock about his game, but there’s definitely room for growth.

    Analysis:

    With Nigel Warrior graduating after the 2019 season, Theo Jackson and Shawn Shamburger becoming seniors after this season, and Trevon Flowers becoming a junior for the 2020 season, there’s plenty of opportunity for Johnson to be able to come in and make an immediate impact in his first two years at Tennessee. He has the kind of ball skills and play-making ability to really thrive in Jeremy Pruitt/Derrick Ansley’s defense, and I fully expect him to have a role at least on special teams if not the two-deep on defense in his first couple years at UT. Jaylen McCollough and Aaron Beasley will have plenty to say about that, but Johnson has enough skill to find a way onto the field.

    Nathanael Rutherford
    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.