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Paris Johnson Jr. Works To Live Up To First-Round Status

Rookie right tackle has impressed with early returns

Rookie Paris Johnson Jr. is trending to be the starting right tackle for the Cardinals.
Rookie Paris Johnson Jr. is trending to be the starting right tackle for the Cardinals.

Since offseason work began, since the Cardinals set a lineup during Phase Two work and then actually had 11-on-11 for OTAs and minicamp, Paris Johnson Jr. has been with the first unit at right tackle.

The team had brought back a steady veteran and locker room influence in Kelvin Beachum, who was solid in that role a season ago. But Johnson was a first-round pick, and it made sense for him to have an immediate role.

Johnson has earned that trust. In turn, his confidence has grown knowing he has a spot in the lineup he can call home.

"I feel like I'm part of the group and I'm as valuable as all of them," Johnson said.

Since 2000, the Cardinals have spent a first-round pick on an offensive lineman five times (and once in the second round, guard Deuce Lutui in 2006.) Johnson this season, tackle D.J. Humphries in 2015, guard Jonathan Cooper in 2013, tackle Levi Brown in 2007 and tackle Leonard Davis in 2001.

Other than Cooper – who broke his leg in his first preseason while in Bruce Arians' starting lineup and was never the same – all have had a level of success. Humphries has been a longtime starter. Brown never could battle back the fact the Cardinals passed on Adrian Peterson to take him, but he was still a starting right tackle for a Super Bowl team. Davis proved better at guard, but Dennis Green wanted him at tackle, and when the Cardinals let him walk as a free agent, he went to multiple Pro Bowls as a guard for the Cowboys.

It's early in the process for Johnson, but he is going to start, and he has shown both the mental ability and the physical gifts that give reason to believe the pick was a good one.

"I want to hold the standard of the room," he said.

Offensive coordinator Drew Petzing praised Johnson's footwork, versatility and intelligence. Johnson did spend a season at guard in college, so that possibility exists, but at 6-foot-6 tackle makes more sense.

"The speed of the game and the communication piece is going to be important," Petzing said.

Johnson already found chemistry with the quarterback for whom he has yet to block. Kyler Murray met Johnson when Johnson came to Tempe on his pre-draft visit and the two made a connection, and Murray has made it clear in recent years he would embrace high picks spent on offensive linemen.

"Paris has been a five-star since high school, always been great at football and in my mind if you're always good at football you'll always be good as long as you continue to do the right things and you work hard and stay true to yourself," Murray said. "I see that from Paris.

"One thing I told him was, 'Be you. You're going to have expectations but don't come in and not be who you are.' You can see the confidence."

The expectations are natural. While the Cardinals did trade down from their original No. 3 slot in the first round, they traded back up to No. 6 to take Johnson.

Johnson will feel the spotlight because of that – "Yeah," he acknowledged, "I do" – but his embrace of Jonathan Gannon's team-first mentality already bleeds from his words and deeds and goes beyond his draft status.

"I feel like ultimately – and I don't know how other first-round picks feel – we're a whole new team with a whole new staff, with new offensive linemen from different teams," Johnson said. "I feel like the spotlight is really on all the Cardinals. It's not all about me.

"We have rookies, we have a new GM, a new coach, and if anything, the spotlight is on the new culture of the Cardinals."

Images from 2023 Cardinals Training Camp at State Farm Stadium

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