The once-proud Tennessee program has fallen on some tough times during the coaching tenures of Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley. While the Volunteers haven't compiled a great win-loss records, they still have produced some good athletes who are intriguing NFL prospects. Johnson is another in that line after he took the SEC by storm last season.
Johnson was the rare bright spot on Tennessee's woeful 2012 defense. The sophomore finished tied for fifth in the nation with 138 tackles. He also chipped in 8.5 tackles for a loss, one sack and one pass broken up. The Volunteers used Johnson on both sides of the ball as he served as a short-yardage ball-carrier. Johnson ran for six touchdowns with 21 yards on 12 carries. Defenders seemed to hesitate to take on someone his size charging through the hole. He had 81 tackles with a forced fumble in 2011.
2013 Season Outlook:
The 2013 season should serve as a real test for Johnson. The Volunteers have a couple of easier opponents, but then travel to Oregon. The speed of the Ducks' high-powered offense and the misdirection of their spread attack should provide a good gauge for Johnson's awareness and test his ability to quickly read his keys to get to the right spot.
A week after that test, Johnson will face Florida, which plans to feature a powerful downhill rushing attack. In October, Tennessee has a death march through three teams in the preseason top six: Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama. All three of those teams feature tough running backs. Georgia's Todd Gurley and Alabama's T.J. Yeldon could be two the toughest backs to contain in college football. Johnson could rack up big tackle totals against those opponents.
Johnson schedule after the Crimson Tide looks conducive for him to standout. Missouri, Auburn, Vanderbilt and Kentucky are all teams that he should produce good totals against.
There is a lot to like about Johnson. He is extremely fast, athletic and physical. Johnson seems to have the speed and quick-twitch ability to function in space that are key in the passing-driven NFL. Playing in the SEC should provide him with solid preparation to take on ground offenses at the next level.
Johnson is a very tough defender versus the rushing attack. He has the speed to defend runs on the perimeter and has good instincts to flow to the ball. Johnson is a physical player taking on blockers and doesn't shy away from contact. He is extremely aggressive, hitting players with authority and putting ball-carriers into the ground hard.
For the next level, Johnson needs to show the ability to be an impact player in pass coverage. The linebackers who have gone in the first round in recent drafts have had the ability to make plays in the passing game. It would help Johnson's draft stock if he can show that he can help defend tight ends, backs and cover a lot of ground in the middle of the field. The past two seasons Johnson has only one pass broken up and zero interceptions. Making a bigger impact as a pass-defender would be the best thing that the junior could do to improve his draft stock in 2013.
2014 NFL Draft Expectations:
Entering the season, Johnson looks like an early-round prospect who could warrant first-round consideration.
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