Football’s renaissance man: Cardinals draft Paris Johnson Jr. to help protect Kyler Murray

Paris Johnson Jr. poses with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after he was selected sixth overall by the Arizona Cardinals during the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft at Union Station Thursday. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images)

TEMPE – When the Arizona Cardinals made wholesale changes to the top of their organization in January, they made it clear they were looking for high-character players to help pave the way for their ensuing rebuild. Following the first round of Thursday’s NFL Draft, they appear to have knocked it out of the park with the energy Ohio State left tackle Paris Johnson Jr. brought to the team’s conference room on Friday afternoon.

The Cardinals and their scouting department fell in love with Johnson at Ohio State’s Pro Day and their subsequent Top-30 visit with him in Arizona. His energy and highly regarded character, in addition to his obvious on-the-field ability, surely drew eyes from quarterback Kyler Murray.

Murray was in the building for Johnson’s Top-30 visit with the team and invited him to come chat at some point during the trip. Johnson told the media he had to try and not get starstruck at the prospect of meeting the Pro-Bowl signal caller.

“I reached over for my phone and texted my teammate Luke (Wypler) like, ‘Dude, Kyler knows my first name,’” Johnson said.

Johnson grew nervous when the team was on the clock with the No. 3 overall pick, which it ultimately traded to the Houston Texans for the No. 12 selection and future draft capital. He likely thought he wouldn’t be a member of the Cardinals following that trade until the team moved back up to the No. 6 overall pick to make sure they got their guy.

Johnson made it clear this was the organization he hoped to be drafted by, partly due to his father, Paris Johnson Sr., being drafted by the team in 1999. He told reporters on Thursday that he hoped to finish what his father started by bringing glory and championships to the desert.

“I wanted to be a Cardinal. … (I) told the coaches I want to finish what my Dad couldn’t. I want to finish what he started originally as the original Paris Johnson. So to be able to carry that legacy with the Cardinals is everything.”

On Friday, Johnson told reporters that he took a picture of a condo that he liked when he was visiting the team for his pre-draft visit. His mother responded by saying that happened to be the same condo that she and her husband had when he was selected in the fifth round by the team more than two decades ago. It was a surreal moment for Johnson, which increased his excitement for potentially joining the Cardinals.

Although the NFL Draft is about setting up success in the future, some question Johnson’s role as a rookie. As a natural left tackle, Johnson’s position is currently occupied by longtime blindside protector D.J. Humphries. On the other side, veteran Kelvin Beachum has been steady for the team. Johnson told reporters he was willing to play wherever it takes to get on the field.

“I want to play,” he said. “That’s all I want to do. I expressed to Mr. Monti, if I get to play free safety, I will play free safety.”

Cardinals new general manager Monti Ossenfort did not appear overly enthused with the idea of the 6-foot-6, 311-pound Johnson covering wideouts on the back end of the team’s secondary in the fall. He also wouldn’t commit about where on the line Johnson might land.

“We will put our best five on the field, so Paris will be worked at multiple spots just like everybody else is and will see how that shakes out,” Ossenfort said.

Regardless of position, the Cardinals landed a high-energy player who is also considered a bit of a renaissance man and can speak Mandarin Chinese and Portuguese. On top of being a highly regarded prospect in this year’s class, he has expressed excitement for being a part of what the Cardinals are building.

Alex Sutton A-leks SUH-tin (he/him)
Sports Broadcast Reporter, Phoenix

Alex Sutton expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in business. Sutton, who is assigned to Cronkite Sports Phoenix this semester, is going on his fifth year of covering the Arizona Cardinals for USA Today.