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Jaleel Johnson: New Backup DT/NT ?

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NCAA Football: Iowa at Northwestern Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

The third pick the Vikings made during this year’s draft was for Jaleel Johnson, DT out of Iowa. Johnson is 6’3”, 316lbs, and played both the 3-technique and 1-technique in his two years as a starter for the Hawkeyes.

Looking at Johnson’s game and style as an interior linemen, his strength is clearly his pass rush, and his ability to penetrate- get off the ball quickly and turn that speed to power. But looking at his performance in college (see PFF chart below on top DTs in this year’s draft), he struggled more as a run defender.

There are some differing views about Johnson as well. Some say he has been inconsistent, while others say he has a high-motor that is always running and is never short on effort. Looking at his tape, there is evidence of both. I would not say his effort looks inconsistent- he does always seem to be working- but his results are inconsistent- sometimes making a big stop or TFL, other times over-penetrating or slow to get off a block and allowing the RB to get through his gap, or getting fooled a bit by a misdirection play. Most of that ‘inconsistent’ play comes in run defense, although there are times of course where he fails to make an impact as a pass rusher as well (as is the case with most interior defenders).

In terms of traits and technique, Johnson is good size for either DT/NT spot, at 6’3” 316lbs.. His 33.25” arms are also good for an interior defender. He also has shown very good and consistent technique with his hand placement, explosion off the snap, and toolbox of pass rush techniques.

But where he needs to improve is both his upper and lower body strength. His 19 benchpress reps at the Combine is below expectations for an interior defensive linemen, and he’ll need to spend a lot of time in the weight room to increase his upper body strength to compete successfully at the NFL level. Much of his good technique with his hands and pass rush will be mitigated if he doesn’t have the strength to go along with it. Similarly, improving his lower body strength to provide a better functional anchor to hold his ground against the run will be essential to improve his performance and make his jump to the next level a successful one.

Overall, looking in more depth at Johnson’s profiles, I came away thinking he may be not as ready-to-go as I thought initially, but still has what it takes to become a starter as he improves his strength and gains awareness of the NFL game. I have not heard much on him so far in the off-season program, other than defensive line coach Andre Patterson saying he was explosive off the ball.

I could see him getting some rotational reps at both 1-tech and 3-tech this year, particularly in passing situations, if he shows in camp that he can be successful against NFL offensive linemen, and consistent enough in his assignments. Andre Patterson has spoken of creating more sub-packages to better accommodate player strengths, so perhaps Johnson will find his way into some of those packages this year.

Here is his:

NFL Draft Profile

Bleacher Scouting Report

CincyJungle Scouting Report

Pro Football Focus