A four-year starter across multiple positions at Kansas, Johnson projects best as a SAM linebacker in a 4-3 defense in the NFL. He is an urgent and physical player that has strong hands and outstanding ability to covert speed to power. Hey is aggressive in pursuit and plays with tone-setting physicality. Over the last two seasons, Johnson primarily played on the line of scrimmage as a defensive end but will need to fully embrace a stack linebacker in the NFL so a transition period should be expected. With that said, his foundation of power, athleticism and football character bodes well for his opportunity to develop. Johnson should be an immediate special teams contributor with developmental appeal at linebacker.
Ideal Role: Developmental linebacker
Scheme Fit: Even front
Written by Joe Marino
Games watched: Coastal Carolina (2021), Texas (2021), Senior Bowl
Best Game Studied: Texas (2021)
Worst Game Studied: Coastal Carolina (2021)
Tackling: Johnson is a physical, tone-setting tackler with strong hitting power. With that said, he does have some challenges finishing outside of his frame due to his below average length which reduces his tackle radius.
Football IQ/Instincts: Johnson plays fast but isn’t without his share of missed reads. In evaluating him as an edge player in 2021, it’s clear that his responses to blocks where erratic which forced him to to be out of position when it comes to run fits. Some of those concerns should be alleviated by playing him as a stack linebacker or walked up on the line of scrimmage.
Competitive Toughness: Johnson is a tenacious football player. His physical and aggressive with seemingly no care for his light frame competing in the trenches as a true hand-in-the-dirt edge defender in college. He brings the fight well above his weight class.
Pass Coverage: Johnson has the athletic profile to be a sound coverage player but he will need to develop his instincts in zone drops. He has the quickness to situationally play in man against tight ends and running backs. He only has a modest amount of coverage drops over the last couple seasons as he’s primarily played defensive end across that span.
Run Defending: I love how Johnson competes as a run defender. While he doesn’t have the size or length to hold up as an edge-setter in the NFL, he didn’t back down in college and often squeezed gaps despite not having anywhere near ideal size. He will need to develop his angles and instincts from a true standup role at the next level.
Block Deconstruction: Johnson’s modest length and size creates some challenges unhinging from blocks but it should be improved with a permanent role as a stack linebacker. He has the power in his hands and core strength to take on blocks, stack and shed.
Lateral Mobility: Johnson is an explosive mover in all directions. He can easily change directions and work laterally down the line of scrimmage. His quickness and pursuit urgency is a notable asset to his game.
Flexibility: Johnson is a springy athlete that an rapidly work in any direction. He can turn tight corners and he has the movement skills necessary to pedal and coverage drop.
Leadership: Johnson’s willingness to play multiple positions during his time at Kansas and compete in situations that don’t match his skill set speaks to his leadership and football character. His competes with urgency and brings the fight on ever snap.
Versatility: While Johnson was used in a number of ways at Kansas, that will be reduced in the NFL. I like him as a SAM linebacker in a 4-3 defense where his ability to take on blocks and occasionally rush the passer will be highlighted. He should be an outstanding special teams contributor across four phases.
Marino Grade: 68.00/100 (Sixth Round Value)