Johnson last played in the NFL with the Lions in 2012, but was with the team last summer in training camp before being cut. Johnson was arrested last September for public urination in Miami following his release from the Lions. That was not his first run-in with the law since becoming an NFL player in 2008.
Originally drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the second round of the 2008 draft out of Arkansas State, Johnson was immediately thrust into the starting lineup at free safety due to a neck injury to Madieu Williams. He finished that season with 24 tackles and an interception while starting the first seven games. Johnson moved to strong safety the following season after the departure of Darren Sharper and started 15 games. He recorded 53 tackles, an interception and seven pass breakups that season. The following summer, Johnson lost in the competition to retain his starting spot at strong safety and spent the next two seasons in limited action off the bench. In 2010 and 2011, he started a combined five games with a total of 18 appearances. He recorded 30 tackles and one pass breakup in that span, while also getting some work on special teams. In 2010 he was bothered by a knee injury, limiting his effectiveness, and his 2011 season ended prematurely due to a torn hamstring. Johnson signed with the Lions in 2012 and appeared in just four games, mostly as a special teams player. He had three tackles that year on defense.
Johnson was initially on the Falcons radar back in 2008 during the pre-draft process. He helps add an experienced safety to the team’s roster, which is desperately needed given injuries to Dwight Lowery (concussion), Dezmen Southward (knee) and Zeke Motta (neck). The Falcons are currently employing Kemal Ishmael and Sean Baker opposite strong safety William Moore in the absence of those players. Ishmael has only appeared in four NFL games, all coming on special teams in 2013 during his rookie season. Baker has appeared in none in two years in the pros.
Nix was a highly productive defensive tackle at Kent State over the past four seasons, collecting a total of 24 sacks and 65 tackles for loss to become the school’s all-time leader in both categories. The Falcons were attempting to convert Nix to the offensive side of the ball given his smaller stature (5’11” 260 pounds) made it unlikely he would play his natural position in the NFL. His departure leaves fellow undrafted rookie Maurice Hagens and incumbent starter Patrick DiMarco as the lone remaining fullbacks on the roster.