In June of 2011, Austin Johnson got a scholarship offer from Penn State. A relatively lightly-recruited prospect out of New Jersey – his other major offers were Boston College, Rutgers, Syracuse, Tulane, and Villanova – Johnson committed on the spot to what he called his dream school. He stuck with the university after all of the turmoil of November 2011 and redshirted in 2012, his true freshman year.
And then in 2013, Austin Johnson started eating people.
Johnson was a monster during his three years on the field in Happy Valley. As a redshirt freshman who rotated at the defensive tackle spot next to Daquan Jones, Johnson accrued 27 tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack, and a fumble recovery. His role expanded in 2014, and Johnson took advantage playing next to Anthony Zettel at DT: 49 tackles, six for loss, three pass deflections, two fumble recoveries, and a sack.
At the start of the 2015 season, there were a lot of rumblings – mostly from Penn Staters – that Johnson was on the verge of a huge year. He was in year four at Penn State, year three on the field, and year two as a regular contributor with the team, so it seemed like Johnson was ready to go from "a guy that Penn State fans liked" to "a guy that will put on a show and make himself a big time NFL Draft prospect in 2016."
Johnson ended up doing just that. While Carl Nassib got all the attention because he sacked quarterbacks like it was nothing, Johnson chugged along and put up an insane year for a tackle. The New Jersey native totaled 78 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, two pass deflections, and a fumble recovery that he took 71 yards to the house for a touchdown. For real, watch that fumble video. Watch his presence of mind to pick up the ball and go and watch how quickly he gets down the field despite being the size of an F-150. I hand-timed his 40-yard dash right there at 5.09 seconds. Not bad. Also horribly unofficial. But not bad!
After Penn State's loss in the TaxSlayer Bowl, Johnson announced that he planned on going to the NFL. His combine numbers were fine – he had a 5.32 second 40-yard dash, 25 reps on the bench press, 26 inch vertical, 99 inch broad jump, 7.84 second three cone drill, 4.75 second 20-yard shuttle. While his testing numbers aren't stellar, he plays like an absolute freak of nature, a guy whose testing numbers may not match up with his performance on the field because his game tape is ridiculous.
Unfortunately for Johnson, this year's defensive tackle class is insane, so he likely will not go until sometime in the second round. But whichever team gets him will be ecstatic, because they just drafted a dude who is going to be a cornerstone on their defensive line for the next decade.
What You're Getting
With Austin Johnson, you're getting someone who, at the very least, is going to be a pain in the ass against the run. He's so big that he just eats up space, so if an offense wants to run up the middle against the New Jersey native, it better hope that it has two linemen trying to clear him out. Even then, he's insanely good at stuffing the run and forcing things to the outside, which is probably his biggest strength.
Johnson also has a motor that doesn't stop. He's constantly going all-out in an attempt to get into the backfield, which is scary because he's 6-foot-4 and 314 pounds. This leads to him bringing down ballcarriers within a yard or two of the line of scrimmage pretty frequently, and while he doesn't always get to quarterbacks, he's pretty good at getting into the backfield. This also helps him break up things that take a while to get past the line of scrimmage, as he is so good in pursuit that he has been known to break up things toss plays to the outside in the past. Basically, dudes who are his size shouldn't be as good going sideline-to-sideline as Austin Johnson is.
His biggest flaw is he's not exactly the best pass rusher, but as a guy who projects as a nose tackle type in the NFL, that's not a huge deal. Besides, Johnson had 6.5 sacks in 2015. And again, his motor is so good that if he can improve his pass rushing skills, he'll be a monster rushing the passer, too.
But for now, Austin Johnson is a space eater up the middle who will mortify running backs. This leads us to...
If this year's defensive tackle class wasn't so loaded, we'd be talking about Johnson as a potential first rounder. However, Johnson's a super fun prospect, as he is big, strong, and goes sideline-to-sideline really well. He's awesome against the run and can end up being really good against the pass. You're going to enjoy him, [team that just drafted Austin Johnson].