When we reviewed the best defensive additions of the early portion of free agency, the team that led our list was the Cleveland Browns. Why? Because they signed former Los Angeles Rams safety John Johnson III, the best safety on the market. As we wrote:
Cleveland's biggest defensive issue last season was covering the deep middle of the field. The Browns ranked 28th in Football Outsiders' DVOA against deep passes, an issue that undermined the rest of their unit. Enter Johnson III, one of the best and most underrated center-field type safeties in the league. As we saw last season, though, he has the versatility to rotate down into a two-high look and play the run just as well as he covers in space. He's just a really good player, and a perfect fit for what this team needed.
As it turns out, Browns general manager Andrew Berry shared that vision of Johnson, which is exactly why he moved to sign Johnson in free agency. Berry described Johnson as the type of player who "doesn't usually make it to the free-agent market," per the team's official website.
Specifically, Berry said that the Browns valued Johnson's versatility at the top of the defense.
"He can play free safety, strong safety and he can play in the box in the nickel or dime," Berry said. "His breadth of skills that he brings to the table, that he can play man coverage, he can play center field, he can support the run and really do everything at a pretty high level. It's perfect for what we want to be as a defense. On top of that, you have his intelligence and his natural leadership. That's something we'll always look to add to the mix, and we feel like we're fortunate that he was available."
Last season, Johnson aligned as a free safety on 394 snaps, a box safety on 459 snaps, and a slot corner on 264 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. It was his most versatile season yet, as he had previously spent his time almost exclusively as a true safety. But under new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, he was freed up to utilize other parts of his skill set. Now playing under Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods, he should be able to do the same.