Austin Johnson’s (DT, Penn State) tape vs Ohio State is frustrating. Having watched both Johnson and Michigan’s Willie Henry struggle against this unit, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. The Buckeye’s had a loaded roster across the board and it showed. When I watched Johnson against Indiana and Maryland there was much more to like.
He’s 6-4 and 323lbs so he’s a big dude. We’re not talking about a natural three-technique who comes in for the nascar package and rushes the QB. Anyone hoping Johnson alone is the answer to Seattle’s pass-rush issues is probably going to be disappointed.
That’s the case, however, for pretty much every defensive lineman in this class. Assuming a prospect like Sheldon Rankins isn’t available, you’re going to compromise one way or another. It’s about identifying the player or players you think you can develop from a deep group at the position.
They might end going for the best athlete (possibly Mississippi State’s Chris Jones) and trying to tap into his upside. They also generally haven’t gone after underachievers — and that’s really what Jones is. A former #2 overall and 5-star recruit, Jones never lived up to that billing. So while the potential is there — consider the priority Seattle has placed on production and not just extreme athleticism:
2010 — Earl Thomas had eight interceptions in his final season at Texas
2010 — Golden Tate won the Biletnikoff
2011 — James Carpenter was arguably the best run blocking tackle in college
2011 — John Moffitt helped Montee Ball set records at Wisconsin
2012 — Bruce Irvin had 22.5 sacks in two seasons at West Virginia
2012 — Bobby Wagner had four sacks as a senior and 478 (!!!) career tackles
2014 — Paul Richardson had 1343 and 10 touchdowns in his final year at Colorado
2015 — Frank Clark’s tape is actually really good with many splash plays
2015 — Tyler Lockett had 2777 yards and 22 touchdowns in his final two seasons
The one player that didn’t have major production and went very early? Christine Michael in 2013 — one of the greatest athletes to ever test at the combine, taken in a year where they hardly had any key needs. That aside, the Seahawks seem to place a certain emphasis on production.
Jones had 2.5 sacks in 2015 and three in 2014. He’s a self-confessed underachiever with a physical skill set to be incredible. In a draft of compromises on the defensive line — you could do a lot worse. Draft history suggests they’re more likely to seek out an overachiever who isn’t a slouch.
That’s where Johnson possibly comes in.
The issue might be size. It’s not usual for a team to draft a 323lbs defensive lineman to provide a spark for the pass rush. The Seahawks have also opted against drafting such size for their D-line. The early picks have gone on more quick-twitch, dynamic athletes (Irvin, Hill, Clark). It’s not like you’re going to roll a 6-4, 323lbs monster on the field for third and long.
To that extent Jones’ length (6-6), athleticism and ability to play at around 295lbs (Derek Wolfe size) might be preferable. And I do like what I’ve seen from Jones so far — it’d be easy to imagine he’s a candidate for the Seahawks.
Back to Johnson — here’s a video to show he’s not just a cumbersome nose tackle:
There is some evidence of burst off the LOS and quickness too. He’s a former basketball player in High School and you see that athleticism on tape. There’s minimal bad weight on that frame. His hustle is incredible — he’ll keep fighting until the whistle. He keeps trying to find ways to work to the ball carrier and won’t give up like some of the DT’s in this class.
There’s something to be said for a really active defensive tackle who you have to focus on for the whole play. A guy who is constantly moving his feet and fighting to get into the backfield. His tackle numbers are incredible for a DT — and it’s down to his relentless effort. So while he might not always win with speed to knife straight into the backfield or dominate with a pretty good bull-rush — his motor and determination make him a very interesting player. His closing speed and pursuit is also surprisingly good.
He doesn’t have ideal length (32 and 5/8 inch arms) and that could be an issue. Smaller defensive tackles in this class are longer (Adolphus Washington is only 6-3 and 297lbs but has 34 inch arms). You also wonder what his position is in Seattle. As intriguing and fun as he is to watch — is he upgrading the pass rush? Or is he a one-technique or a Rubin replacement who can do you a good, disciplined, hearty job but isn’t creating relentless pressure?
And how much more likely are they to perhaps consider a Chris Jones, Adolphus Washington or Jihad Ward with the offer of a little more explosion and superior length?
In fact if people are looking for the next possible Malik Jackson or the next Derek Wolfe — look no further than Washington and Ward.
Jackson is smaller than Washington (284lbs vs 297lbs) but they both have 34 inch arms and the ability to flash in the pass rush. Pete Carroll worked with Jackson at USC before he transferred to Tennessee in 2010 so he’ll know what to look for if he wants a similar player. Ward is mirroring Wolfe’s pre-draft process to a tee. Wolfe was considered a marginal later round pick without an obvious position but his stock quickly increased during the post-season and he went in round two. Ward is doing exactly the same thing and could go from projected fifth rounder to second rounder. They’re almost identical in size — Wolfe is 6-5 and 295lbs, Ward 6-5 and 296lbs. Ward also has an interesting backstory — he’s had to battle adversity in his life.
If you’re hoping for a cheap way to try and emulate Denver’s depth on the D-line — it might be time to hope Washington falls due to character flags and Ward stick with a day three grade. That’d be one way to upgrade things while affording the opportunity to make early picks on the O-line and at linebacker or running back. I suspect Austin Johnson, meanwhile, is going to go in round two or three.