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5 Qs: C.J. Gardner-Johnson is ‘an absolute ball-hawk’

Get to to know the Lions new defensive back

NFL: Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Over the weekend, Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes made a big signing when they brought in the NFL’s interception leader Eagles defensive back C.J. Gardner Johnson.

Gardner-Johnson was a big swing from the Lions and is a guy that is a day one starter and really shores up several areas for this team. He can play safety and he can play nickel corner. There’s a good chance that it’s latter since that’s mainly what he did with the New Orleans Saints when he was with Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn.

It’s for that reason that I decided that instead of talking with our friends over at Bleeding Green Nation, it makes more sense to talk to our pal Matt Miguez from Canal Street Chronicles to get a better look at how things worked in New Orleans with Glenn and Gardner-Johnson. Here’s what he had to say:

1. What are your thoughts on Gardner-Johnson’s time with the Saints?

“CJ’s time in New Orleans was absolutely incredible. To me, he was the one player on the defensive side that the Saints should’ve re-signed. I didn’t want to pay him his asking price as a slot corner, which is what the Saints were playing him as, but I believe he’s a better safety than Marcus Maye so the Saints could’ve easily put him there. CJ brought a special energy and swagger to the field and locker room that is very hard to replace.”

2. What are his strengths?

“CJ’s an absolute ball-hawk. He flies around the back end of the field with reckless abandon and makes plays. He’s fast, strong, and has an incredibly high football IQ. Gardner-Johnson can play the rover, slot corner, safety, and just about anywhere on the back end of the defense. With a defensive mind like Dan Campbell as well as Aaron Glenn, the sky is the limit for CJ’s potential.”

3. What are his weaknesses?

“With CJ being slightly undersized, he doesn’t match up well with bigger receivers 1v1. Also, he struggled in zone coverage while in New Orleans. The Eagles did a great job of using him as a deep free safety and he really strived in that role. With New Orleans, he played more of a man coverage role in the slot corner and he was an absolute stud in that role. Another downside to his game is he gambles sometimes and misses tackles that result in big plays. So if I were the Lions, I would avoid putting him in zone coverage too often and I wouldn’t match him with the DK Metcalfs and Tee Higgins of the world.”

4. Gardner-Johnson and Aaron Glenn worked together in New Orleans. What did they do well together?

“Glenn was the defensive backs coach in New Orleans from 2016-2020 where helped draft All-Pro corner Marshon Lattimore in 2017 and then CJ Gardner-Johnson in 2019. Under Glenn, the Saints’ secondary was incredibly talented, ranking 13th in overall defense and as high as fourth in rushing defense. According to PFF, CJ underperformed in 2019 but as someone who watched every Saints game while Gardner-Johnson was here, they accomplished a lot when they worked together.”

5. Gardner-Johnson has played safety and corner. Where did he work best?

“In my honest opinion, I think CJ is better as a safety. He has the ability to roam the defensive backfield and he led the league in INTs last year in Philadelphia. He can also step up into the second level and rush the quarterback, where he got three sacks during his time in New Orleans. He did plenty of great things as a slot corner in New Orleans, but his future and highest potential is at the safety position.”

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