Recently, USC received its fourth commitment in the 2018 class with the addition of cornerback Marcus Johnson. Recruited out of local powerhouse Hawkins High School in Los Angeles, Johnson is a speedy prospect rated as a solid four star and the 135th best player in the 2018 class, according to the 247 sports composite rankings. Although he will not be on campus for another year and a half, Johnson has the ability to be a playmaker at USC while his recruitment could also impact the 2017 class.
Listed at 5’10”, 165 lbs., Johnson is often one of the smallest players on the field. However, he uses his size to his advantage with excellent quickness and a low center of gravity. Being only a junior in high school, his physical upside is not yet capped but he already shows impressive speed and quickness. Most of his high school tape is of his offensive performances which could open the possibility of contributing on both sides of the ball for the Trojans.
Although he is listed as a cornerback prospect on various recruiting sites, Johnson could be an excellent slot receiver. Many players his size tend to be quicker than they are fast, but that is not true for Johnson. His speed is just as impressive as his agility in tight spaces. In addition, for a 165-pound receiver, he often breaks multiple tackles. Johnson uses a low center of gravity and excellent quickness to easily avoid arm tackles, allowing him to pick up chunks of yardage after contact.
Johnson’s impressive skillset lends well to playing on offense at USC, but these physical traits could easily be applied to defense as well. He is likely far too small for the outside, but Johnson could develop into a good corner in the slot. As of now, his technique on defense is extremely raw and would require at least a year or two on the scout team before being ready to see significant playing time. However, he is certainly quick enough to keep up with almost any slot receiver and he does not shy away from contact.
Perhaps the most underrated aspect of Johnson’s game is his physicality. Again, Johnson is not a large player by any means, but he breaks a lot of tackles for his size and is not afraid to play a physical brand of defense. As a slot corner, he would often be relied upon to make plays in the run game, and his mindset suggests that this should not be an issue. Were he to play on offense, Johnson’s physicality could be key in getting off the line in press coverage as well as breaking tackles after the catch. For a generously listed 5’10”, 165-pound player, Johnson plays well above his size.
Johnson’s multi-faceted skillset should translate very well to the college game. Whether it be on offense or defense, his rare combination of speed and quickness will allow the youngster to carve out a role during his career at SC. The current starter at slot corner, Ajene Harris, is only a redshirt sophomore. This limits Johnson’s outlook for early playing time if he sticks to his pledge, assuming Harris does not leave early for the draft, but this could actually be beneficial to Johnson.
If the Hawkins product does in fact play on defense, he will need at least a year to develop the proper technique of a defensive back. He is very raw in this area and would likely be exposed if expected to shut down college wide receivers in the slot. Therefore, Johnson could bide his time behind Harris honing his skills on the practice field before eventually competing for the starting spot as either a redshirt freshman or a true sophomore.
On the other hand, if Johnson decides to play on offense, his outlook is a little less clear. The most similar player to Johnson currently on the roster is sophomore Dominic Davis. Davis has been used sparingly during his first two years on campus, giving Johnson very little to base his potential playing time on were he to play on offense. Johnson’s quickness should allow him to be a playmaker either out of the backfield or in the slot in certain packages. This could possibly lead to early playing time, but being that Davis is still only a sophomore and unlikely to leave early for the draft, Johnson would probably have to wait a year before seeing the field on offense as well as defense.
A side note in Johnson’s recruitment that could turn out to be very impactful in about 6 weeks is the high school he currently attends. Highly touted 2017 prospects Joseph Lewis and Greg Johnson are Marcus Johnson’s current teammates at Hawkins High School. Lewis and Johnson are two of the highest prospects on USC’s board for the 2017 class, but neither should be considered heavy leans to the Trojans at this point in time. That being said, earning the commitment of their teammate can never be a bad thing, especially if the three happen to be close friends. This factor may turn out to be unimportant in the end, but it is another factor to watch as we inch closer to signing day 2017.
Regardless of the recruiting situations of Johnson’s teammates, the young prospect is a solid pickup for the Trojans. His dynamic play making ability could be extremely effective on offense, but his impressive physical traits of speed, quickness, and strength could also make him a valuable slot corner. With over a year to go before the 2018 cycle concludes, a lot can still happen, but USC would do well to ensure Johnson sticks to his commitment. The young prospect has the ability to be a very valuable player in Cardinal and Gold come the 2018 season and beyond.