Coming into the 2015 season, Anthony Zettel was the name-to-know on Penn State’s defensive line. That changed quickly as defensive end Carl Nassib became an instant star leading the nation in sacks. But perhaps the man who allowed both of those players to dominate was Austin Johnson.
At defensive tackle, Johnson was a part of a unit that was among the best at sacking the quarterback, forcing fumbles, and making tackles for loss. As a junior (his final season), he racked up 78 tackles, 15 for loss, and 6.5 sacks while defending two passes and recovering a fumble.
His 6-4, 314 pound frame allows him to be a defensive tackle in a 4-3 or a nose tackle in a 3-4 in the NFL.
Johnson moves very well for someone his size. He was able to chase down dual-threat quarterbacks and his 6.5 sacks last season was among the nation’s best for defensive tackles. Even when not making the tackle, Johnson’s ability to move laterally cut off holes for running backs, allowing other Nittany Lion defenders to finish off the job.
Skip to the 0:47 mark and you’ll see Johnson’s ability to move laterally, as he makes a tackle for loss.
Another thing that pops out in the video is his ability to eat up space. Johnson tends to get a good push, and his size allows him to cut off lanes and make some sort of contact with the ball carrier. He often commands double-teams and while that isn’t something that will happen in the NFL, it shows how dominant Johnson is.
Austin Johnson does not have many weaknesses. Most notably, he needs to improve his use of the hands. Considering he does not have the ideal arm length, his ability to make moves with his hands will be crucial.
Another thing to look out for is his weight. According to reports he dropped around ten pounds prior to the combine. Depending on his position at the next level, he may have to alter his weight once more.
Johnson is as a fine of a defensive lineman as anyone in the 2016 draft class. His distinguished career as an anchor of one of the nation’s top defensive shows front offices how much of an impact he makes. Penn State has churned out a plethora of NFL defensive lineman as of late, and Johnson is one of the next in line.
He could get picked in the late first round but is more likely that Johnson will here in name called in the second round.