To examine the San Francisco 49ers 12-man NFL Draft class, 49ers.com checked in with a college coach of each pick. We continue our series with...
San Francisco’s 2014 version of
Jim Harbaugh recruited Reid, the Pro Bowl safety, out of college and was ultimately rejected. That didn’t stop the 49ers coach from drafting Reid in the first-round of the 2013 draft.
Johnson, a North Carolina State standout, made quite the impression on Harbaugh despite choosing to stay close to home instead of playing on the West Coast. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound defensive back totaled 217 tackles, 10 pass breakups, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries in college. Harbaugh remained a fan and met with Johnson at the NFL Scouting Combine, prior to making him San Francisco’s second of two fourth-round draft selections.
“In the NFL, they say it only takes one team to like you,” Wolfpack secondary coach Clayton White told 49ers.com. “With Coach Harbaugh, this is his second time liking Dontae.”
White knows Harbaugh very well. He worked under the 49ers coach's Stanford staff as defensive backs coach from 2007 to '09.
“He couldn’t have found a better place,” Clayton said of Johnson, his intelligent pupil. “He’s with someone who wanted him out of college and out of high school. It’s a pretty neat deal. I think Coach Harbaugh’s personality and Dontae’s personality will definitely be a good fit.”
Johnson played cornerback and safety for NC State. He’s played at cornerback with the 49ers and has flashed play-making potential in training camp and three preseason games.
“He has God-given ability,” Clayton said, “and he has the smarts that’s going to make him bypass younger players that are trying to take things to the next level. He’s very coachable. You tell him once and mentally and physically he gets it done, even the little things. That’s where he wins the battles.”
“His length as a corner always helped him out,” Clayton said. “To me, the most impressive thing Dontae had was his versatility. At any time of the game, he could play all three positions in the secondary. The time that it stood out the most to me was in a game against Wake Forest. He was playing corner the entire spring, the entire preseason, the season – a guy got hurt – he moved to safety without a practice. He also got in the game and recorded his first interception as a safety.
“He was smart enough to know, I need to learn safety even though I’m never going to practice it, but I might play it because of the depth issues we had at the time. He didn’t blink an eye. We asked him, we said, ‘Dontae, you’re going in to play strong safety. You’re going to play these coverages. Let’s go.’ He didn’t blink and went out and got an interception.”
“After my first meeting, my first day with Dontae,” Clayton said, “I absolutely thought he had a future in the NFL. He was different than the other guys and that’s when you know a guy is a special football player. From our very first meeting, his eyes were up and he was taking notes. From our very first practice, he was ahead of the game. It was a new defense and he was already on top of things. I knew he was professional. He was a professional the whole time he was with me at N.C. State.”
“I told him to do his thing and don’t change,” Clayton said. “Stay coachable like you always have and you’ll be fine. Dontae is really smart. He understands what he needs to do. He’s sharp.”