Houston Texans draft series: Nose tackle Austin Johnson
By Josh McSwain
With Vince Wilfork on the decline and likely to be gone after the 2016 season, the Texans need to find a replacement in the middle of the defensive line. Fortunately, this is a great draft for defensive linemen. Today we look at a potential heir to Wilfork in Penn State’s Austin Johnson.
Happy Valley has not been so happy over the last few years. Scandal and mediocre play have marred a proud program. Still, there have been good players that stayed with the school while it has been rebuilding its program.
Like fellow Nittany Lion Christian Hackenberg, Johnson was a freshman during Bill O’Brien‘s final year at the school. So the head coach knows him pretty well. Johnson is a big guy at 6-4 and 315 pounds, has 32.38 inch arms and 9.5 inch hands.
Johnson had a very good season with 78 tackles, including 15 for loss, as well as 6.5 sacks. He did get some attention rolled away from him as teams focused primarily on Carl Nassib coming off the edge. However, some teams might be apprehensive about him because of his subpar combine and Senior Bowl performances.
When looking at Johnson on tape, there are a few things that stand out.
He has good speed for a guy his size. In fact, he returned a fumble 74 yards for a touchdown in a game against San Diego State. He gets up the field well. In the game against Ohio State, he got double teamed quite frequently and he showed that he can occupy blockers well. He diagnoses plays quickly, he can spot rollouts and screens and adjusts on the fly. Ohio State never seemed to have much success running at him.
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The main negatives I saw was that he doesn’t use his hands well enough and he could get stronger. Even though I don’t take combine results with much more than a grain of salt, he did only do 25 reps on the bench press. Also in the tape against Ohio State, he did seem as if he took some plays off. A lot of this was predicated on looking at one game so take for what it is–one game.
When I watch him, the pro comparison that comes to mind is Star Lotulelei from the Carolina Panthers. The both are a little tall but have good feet, play with good effort and are quick for their size.
As always, you never know in the draft. I think he would be a solid choice at 52, because I think he can continue to get better. Hopefully he can reverse the trend of defensive tackle failures through the draft that have been there throughout the Texans history–Travis Johnson and Amobi Okoye are the first two that come to mind there.
He’s not a finished product, but that’s what I think makes him a good pick for the Texans. He can learn for a year under Wilfork to help develop his technique and have another year to get stronger before taking on the bulk of the workload.