So much of understanding certain football personnel moves these days, like life, is about finding infinite details which tie everything together.
Take Friday, when the Detroit Lions placed a waiver claim on Jacksonville Jaguars' cornerback Dontrell Johnson and were awarded his rights. The news probably didn't even make a ripple with fans or in NFL circles, but it's easy to see why the Lions were interested in the young prospect from Murray State despite having several young cornerbacks already in the fold.
Not only is depth at cornerback an important issue for this football team, versatility across positions is as well. Three seasons ago, the Lions claimed a similar player named Stefan Logan. Clearly, the Lions had no need for another wide receiver at the time, but Logan's biggest value came from his rubber legs on kickoff returns. For the past few seasons, he's done a nice job returning kickoffs and punts and serving Detroit's special teams.
Last season, however, Logan wasn't as sharp. Though he placed a respectable 11th in special teams return yards last year and 6th in the NFC, the Lions often lacked the big play or explosive returns he had once provided to flip field position. He didn't score a touchdown, either. Enter Johnson, who last season in college was a phenomenal special teams performer. He earned accolades for his work as a return man, being named one of 2011's top collegiate special teamers by The Sports Network.
Does this signal the Lions have given up on Logan completely? Not at all. Sometimes, the best motivator for a young player is competition. Bringing in a player with a similar skill set could help push Logan to get even better. If Johnson and Logan both excel, there's no harm in having two outstanding talents on special teams either. Maybe Johnson, being a defender, is a quicker tackler with better acceleration down field in addition to a great returner. That could only help the Lions, who were often atrocious in kickoff and punt coverage most of last season as well.
Most of the time, these roster moves are made with the intention of building a team and rounding out a roster. It's why the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers are solid every season. Their third stringers and special teams players are aces, while often times, teams in the middle of the pack struggle to find such performers. Martin Mayhew has done a fantastic job turning this around early in his tenure, helping the Lions inch back to respectability. if nothing else, this move helps aid that further.
Though this move might not make much noise in June, there's no telling if Johnson could become the next Logan, or even Devin Hester in the fall. If motivated and given the chance, anything is always possible for a young player.
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