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‘Mr. See Ball, Get Ball’: A dream fulfilled for Indiana safety Jamar Johnson

Every kid in America dreams of being able to play a sport in the big leagues, but once you hit a certain age you realize that the opportunity may never come. Only a few people avoid the soul-crushing feeling of never having that opportunity.

Indiana junior safety Jamar Johnson is now one of the few. On Saturday, May 1, Jamar Johnson heard his name called in front of millions of Americans watching the NFL Draft.

The Denver Broncos, who have been in need of secondary help for a few seasons now, drafted the ball-hawk with the 164th pick in the fifth round of the draft. 

Out of high school, Johnson wasn’t highly recruited. Indiana was one of only six Power Five conference teams to offer the Sarasota, Florida native. Included in that list are Iowa State, Wake Forest, Purdue, Virginia Tech and Tennessee. Johnson was rated the 1,130th best overall player in the class of 2018 by 247Sports. Yes, I’ll repeat, the 1,130th best prospect in the entire country. That number can seem pretty daunting to look at as a high school senior, but the safety saw it as an opportunity to prove to his peers what he knew all along: that he could play in the NFL. 

Indiana safety Jamar Johnson #22 lines up against Michigan in November 2019.
(Missy Minear/Indiana Athletics)

It was a steady climb up the depth chart for Jamar Johnson in his time at Indiana. As a freshman, Johnson got a lot of special team snaps and got his first career interception against Rutgers in a 24-17 victory. 

Johnson played the husky position, a hybrid between a linebacker and a safety, for the Hoosiers his sophomore season and appeared in all 13 games. Memorably, in the Taxslayer Gator Bowl against Tennessee, Johnson had the only pick-six of his Indiana career.  

Jamar “Mr. See Ball, Get Ball” Johnson really showed his potential and capabilities this past year. Johnson was second on the team in tackles as a safety, totaled four interceptions, and had a forced fumble.

Any Hoosier fan will remember the Penn State game here in Bloomington last fall for an eternity. Johnson tallied 10 solo tackles against the Nittany Lions, a career high, as well as a forced fumble, an interception and a tackle for loss. He did it all.

The junior’s proclaimed alias — one that the rest of the team has adopted — of “Mr. See Ball, Get Ball” encapsulates his play. Johnson is a ball hawk. When watching Kane Wommack’s Indiana defense this past season, you may have seen No. 22 for the Hoosiers in almost every play impacting the game— in coverage, making a play on the ball and even in the backfield. If you even just look at his performance in Columbus against 11th overall pick Justin Fields and Ohio State, it’ll tell the tale — five tackles, one tackle for loss and two interceptions. 

Johnson played 406 snaps in coverage at his time in Bloomington and never gave up a touchdown. He was lockdown. Through Pro Football Focus (PFF), Johnson also had the best passer rating allowed of 37.1 among all draft-eligible safeties. To put this in perspective, the mean passer rating among college quarterbacks would be in the mid-to-high 80’s.  

After his junior campaign, Johnson was named first-team All-Big Ten by the media and declared for the NFL Draft on Jan. 11. 

Heading into the draft, Pro Football Focus listed Jamar as the 47th best player available. If every NFL team drafted best player available this would have the athletic safety taken in the mid second-round. Luckily for the Broncos and unfortunately for Johnson, he fell through to the fifth round. 

In Denver, Johnson will work alongside 2021 Pro Bowl safety Justin Simmons and the Broncos  first-round draft pick, Patrick Surtain II, corner out of Alabama. Head coach Vic Fangio has been able to develop impressive NFL safeties, including Eddie Jackson, Eric Reid, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and of course Simmons. 

It is a dream not many are able to achieve and many will never achieve, but it always puts a smile on your face to see someone who was so doubted out of high school succeed to the top of the football world.

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