With so much debate of what to do with the 33rd pick coupled with the shocking selection of Derrick Henry, Austin Johnson became the forgotten man of the Titans' day two haul. I think we were all expecting Jon Robinson to take a defensive lineman, but Johnson was being overshadowed by names like Jarran Reed and A'Shawn Robinson who were still on the board. I had Johnson pegged to go a little later than 43rd, but I understood the selection considering the need.
When I heard Johnson's name called, I immediately thought "nose tackle." Al Woods is the only true nose tackle left on the roster, coming back on a three year deal he signed this offseason.
Penn State used Johnson in a variety of ways, lining him up at the zero, one three techniques. His main role was a one-tech defensive tackle, lining up between the center and the guard. Johnson made his money as a run defender shedding blocks and plugging gaps, but offered an added bonus as an occasionally disruptive interior pass rusher.
Over the next handful of plays, I'll take you through how Austin Johnson wins and what his potential role could be in 2016 and going forward for the Titans.
Instincts and Movement Skills
Johnson didn't test well athletically, to be blunt. However his game tape paints a different story. I see a guy that might not have the lateral agility or truly explosive first step, but he looks natural when moving in space. He's a heady player and impressed me more than once with his recognition skills, but he also has the ability to get upright and chase a guy down the line of scrimmage.
Exhibit A: Check out this play. Johnson comes off his block and ends up chasing the back to the sideline to make the stop. You don't see that kind of effort from a defensive tackle every day.
I mentioned about that Johnson was "heady." This is what I mean by that. He saw something that tipped him off about a screen play and he immediately dropped back instead of rushing out of the play. He then turns and runs, staying in front of the receiver. It was eerily similar to Jurrell Casey nearly chasing down Brandon Marshall on a busted coverage play in New York last year.
Similar play here. Johnson sees the screen develop and pounces. He takes a good angle to the back and closes in for the tackle. Good stuff.
This is where Johnson shines, in my opinion. I don't think the guy has ever seen a block that he couldn't get off of. His functional strength really shines in this area. Johnson actually lacks quite a bit of arm length, ranking in the 29th percentile of those measured at the combine. However, Johnson still maintains an ability to get off nearly any block at any time. He loves to use one arm for length and the other to push the blocker's shoulder away. It's his go-to move and it was extremely successful for him during his time in Happy Valley.
Johnson fights down the line of scrimmage here, but watch his head. It's up and alert, tracking the ball carrier. He sees his chance and disengages with his right arm, clogging the back's lane.
This time Johnson gets walled off from the ball carrier. The guard has him leveraged on the wrong side of the alley, but Johnson had enough strength in him to come back up and over with his left arm. This freed him up, allowing to amazingly enough make first contact on the runner.
Pass Rushing Upside
I think the main reason why it was Johnson instead of a guy like Reed or Robinson was his upside rushing the passer. Johnson is by no means a two down run defender. He's much more than that and can offer plenty of disruption on passing downs. Johnson totaled six sacks last season for Penn State, doing it in a number of different ways. He landed some with bull rushes and others playing contain around the edge.
Here's a look at Johnson's power rush. He just over-matches his blocker here, whipping him for the pressure. I could see Johnson filling in for a DaQuan Jones in passing situations in sub packages.
Where will Austin Johnson play?
I think you can expect Dick LeBeau to start him out as a depth player. You can pretty much count on Al Woods, DaQuan Jones and Jurrell Casey to start up front, but look for Johnson to be that fourth guy up front. As you get deeper into games, you want fresh legs up front. That's exactly what Johnson will bring you in 2016.
The question that I have is what spot does he play? He has the size to play nose tackle, but could also man the five tech defensive end spot. I think you might actually see him play both. You will probably see him most this season on the inside during nickel and dime packages. Johnson's upside as an interior rusher is greater than that of Al Woods or DaQuan Jones.
Jon Robinson touched on this already during a radio interview on 104.5 The Zone in Nashville. He said, "We think he can play two spots. He can play in and play nose and he has enough quickness that he can give you some reps in the sub as a pass rusher."
We'll see if Robinson's initial comments hold true as we head towards camp. I'll be very interested to see where they slot him to start and how much he plays with with Angelo Blackson and Karl Klug in the fold.