By Charlie Campbell
Summary: A lot was made how the Seminoles’ offensive line improved when Cam Erving moved to center midway through 2014, but Johnson was the reason for that move. He took over at left tackle and showed a lot of potential as a protector for Jameis Winston. Johnson was solid in 2015 and helped Dalvin Cook run wild over the ACC.
As a junior, Johnson had a very underwhelming season, starting off with an ugly game in which Ole Miss and edge rusher Marquis Haynes exposed a lot of problems. Johnson was beaten for a sack and got zero movement in opening holes in the running game. He illustrated a real lack of strength and didn’t generate any push in the ground game. Johnson tied up his blocker, but was not a force at the point of attack to push a defender out of their gap. In pass protection, Johnson has the athleticism to protect against speed rushers, but he is weak to block inside moves and gets bull rushed too easily. Even undersized speed rushers have success bull rushing him. Thus, Johnson is a finesse player who needs development.
For the passing-driven NFL, Johnson has the skill set to be a competitor at left tackle. He has good size, athleticism, and length to protect on the edge. Against speed rushers, Johnson can do a nice job of riding defenders around the pocket. However, he has poor balance as his weight gets extended over his feet and he lunges after defenders far too much. That can be seen in both his pass and run blocking. Johnson’s poor balance and technique also leads to defenders powering through him.
Johnson isn’t a true bull in the ground game, but he is an effective run blocker. He is quick to get to spots on the second level and hit some blocks to spring his back for big gains. Johnson doesn’t blast defensive linemen out of their gaps, but he does well at holding them up and walling them off to the side to help open holes for his back.
Johnson needs a lot of work before he will be ready to play in the NFL. He needs at least one redshirt season. First and foremost, Johnson needs to add strength as he is a finesse player who will get bulled around in the NFL. Johnson already was pushed around and bull rushed by defenders who weigh 60-70 pounds less than him in embarrassing fashion. He also needs to play with a more physical demeanor. On top of the physical development, Johnson needs to work on his technique in both the ground game and pass protection. That includes hand placement, footwork, balance, and leverage. Team sources feel that Johnson made a real mistake entering the 2017 NFL Draft as he should have taken advantage of his senior year to get stronger, develop better technique, and generate some better tape before going to the NFL.
Thus, Johnson is a big developmental project and there are no guarantees that he will work out. As a result, Johnson is more of a third-day pick for the 2017 NFL Draft. He could sneak into the second day, but going in on Day 3 is more likely. Johnson has the size, athleticism, and length to be a starting left tackle in the NFL, so some team could select him with a plan of development.
Player Comparison: Jonathan Martin. Johnson reminds me of Martin. Coming out of Stanford, Martin had an athletic skill set to develop into a starting tackle, but he needed to get stronger and play with more aggression. If Johnson doesn’t add more power and attack pro linemen, he may not work out in the NFL like Martin.
NFL Matches: Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Carolina, Baltimore, Oakland, Cleveland, Buffalo, Houston, Denver, Minnesota, Seattle and New England
There are a lot of teams in need of offensive line help from the 2017 NFL Draft. Given this year’s weak class of tackles, Johnson could end up going higher than expected. The Browns could look for a developmental left tackle because Joe Thomas is aging, and they come armed with a lot of picks for the second day and the mid-rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft. Cleveland is taking a long-term approach to building in the roster, so the team could have the patience to give Johnson time to develop.
In the AFC South, the Jaguars need a long-term left tackle with Brandon Albert’s durability issues. Johnson could be a candidate to develop for Jacksonville. Houston has to replace right tackle Derek Newton and have left tackle Duane Brown aging, but Johnson would not be a good fit for the Texans’ rushing style. The Colts need to continue to build up their offensive line to better protect Andrew Luck.
The Panthers neglected their tackle need last offseason to the detriment of Cam Newton. If Carolina doesn’t land a tackle in the first round, the team could target Johnson later.
Baltimore lost Ricky Wagner in free agency and needs a right tackle badly.
Out in the AFC West, Oakland has gotten good play out of Donald Penn, but the team needs to start grooming its long-term left tackle as Penn is aging. Denver signed Menelik Watson, yet needs more help on the offensive line. In the mid-rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft, the Broncos could target a developmental project like Johnson.
Minnesota and Seattle had two of the worst offensive lines in the NFL last year. Both teams could target Johnson as competition in the mid-rounds. The Patriots could consider a young developmental tackle given that Nate Solder in the last year of his contract.
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