Indiana Ohio St Football

Indiana defensive back Jamar Johnson returns an interception against Ohio State on Nov. 21, 2020, in Columbus, Ohio.

BLOOMINGTON – Former Indiana safety Jamar Johnson will head west to start his pro career.

Johnson was taken in the fifth round of the NFL draft Saturday afternoon, going 164th overall to the Denver Broncos.

Projected as high at the third round, the 6-foot, 205-pound Johnson slipped somewhat due to concerns about his tackling. But the Broncos are banking on Johnson making an impact with his high-end coverage skills. Johnson recorded four interceptions, including two against Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, to earn All-Big Ten first team safety honors in 2020.

"That game was really important for me and my career," Johnson said in an introductory Zoom call with Denver reporters Saturday. "I saw the TV views. It was like six or seven million views. I had a chip on my shoulder from the year before. We got beat 51-10. It definitely put a chip on my shoulder. I really wanted to win that game. Another thing that played a part was my birthday was the next day, so I was in that game mode — that takeover mode. I wanted to do whatever I could to help my team get the (win). We came up a little short, but it definitely helped me a lot."

Overall, Johnson posted seven career interceptions, including one he returned 63 yards for a TD in the 2020 Gator Bowl against Tennessee. Playing both husky and safety during his IU career, Johnson posted four career sacks, eight tackles for loss and 14 pass breakups. He declared for the draft last January following his junior year at IU.

“The thing you love about Jamar Johnson is the athletic ability, the anticipation, ball skills, cover deep, cover slot,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said during Saturday’s NFL draft broadcast. “Underrated blitzer, that’s an underrated aspect of his game. But in order for Jamar Johnson to reach the potential I think he has, he’s got to become a more reliable tackler.”

Johnson’s 31.7 passer rating allowed since 2019 is best among draft-eligible safeties, according to Pro Football Focus.

"I'm a ballhawk, but I need to clean up my tackling," Johnson said. "Everything else is see-ball, get-ball. As a DB, the ball is the most important thing. I'm just going out to get as many picks and to get the ball back for the offense. It gives our team a better chance to win."

With the selection of Johnson, Indiana has had at least one player taken in the NFL draft every year since 2014. Johnson also is the first non-offensive lineman taken in the NFL draft from the Hoosiers since 2018, when tight end Ian Thomas was taken in the fourth round by the Carolina Panthers and linebacker Chris Covington was taken in the fifth round by the Dallas Cowboys.

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