The Jacksonville Jaguars are at a weird spot with their defensive line depth. They need to add players at every single spot really, despite having a few solid players in places such as Jared Odrick, Tyson Alualu, and Roy Miller. Abry Jones has also been a solid nose tackle for them, but he is a free agent and it is not yet clear if he will be back. Miller is also entering the eighth season of his career and will be 29 by the time the Jaguars kick off the 2016 season.
The team has shown a penchant for rotating their linemen frequently and using specific linemen to play several spots, such as Odrick and Alualu, and even Jones at times. The kind of defensive line talent the should be looking for in this offseason should be in this same versatile mold but they need more defensive lineman who are disruptive and can take over games and make plays, whether that be vs the run or the pass.
One defensive line that fits this mold in the upcoming NFL Draft? Penn State defensive tackle Austin Johnson.
Track of development
One of the more impressive things about Johnson, who will be participating in the Senior Bowl (early graduate), is the fact that you can look at his college production and track just how much he has developed.
- As a freshman: Played in 10 games, 27 total tackles, 3 tackles for a loss, 1 sack
- As a sophomore: Played in 12 games, 49 total tackles, 6 tackles for a loss, 1 sack
- As a junior: Played in 13 games, 78 total tackles, 15 tackles for a loss, 6.5 sacks
What this shows is a young player who got slightly more opportunities each season, but was able to elevate his play in each one of these seasons. This is what you want to see in college players. Seeing this kind of development and major bumps in production from year to year is a major sign of an ability to improve on one's game.
There are a lot of prospects that don't really change as players from year to year. What you see is what you get, and to expect any true improvement from them is a projection.
This is not the case for Johnson, though. Combine this with the fact that he will be only 22 by his first NFL game, and he is an extremely appealing prospect.
Trump cards and the value of having one
When watching prospects, it is always important to try to find the one thing they really excel at. The one thing that they bring that is truly valuable and unique to them.
My friend and now Hollywood-stricken NFL.com writer Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) describes this one thing as a trump card, or in his words "a player's one advantage that, when all else fails, they can turn to to beat the opposition."
Johnson has this kind of trump card. It's his strength and run defense.
There is no point in trying to paint Johnson as something he is not. He had a high sack number for a nose tackle in 2015, but he is not the type of player that comes to mind when you think of a pass rusher from a defensive tackle. He lacks the explosiveness and quick twitch to take advantage of most interior offensive lineman though he does still offer this role as a player who can occupy blockers and collapse the pocket with strength.
But, that is not Johnson's "trump card".
Johnson is a prototypical 4-3 nose tackle. When you line him up shading the center and ask him to hold his ground at the point of attack and anchor vs the run, he dominates. Simply dominates.
Here is one example of such domination. Johnson (No. 99) wins right off the snap. He fires off the ball with great leverage and is able to control the blocker in front of him immediately. He has so much control of the lineman that he is able to hold his ground and read the play, and then quickly discard the blocker to make the tackle.
Johnson as a penetrating lineman is much different against the run than he against the pass. Against the pass, offensive lineman are able to take a step back and prepare to mirror Johnson. Johnson isn't overly explosive, so most offensive linemen have an advantage over him in this scenario.
But vs the run, he is a bull in a china shop on every given opportunity. He is able to meet blockers head on and use his momentum and brute strength to simply bully them.
He also plays with great recognition ability, another testament to his aforementioned growth as a football player over the years. He is able to diagnose screens quickly as well as react to the way blockers come off the ball and find a way to make a play.
Johnson also demonstrates an ability to recover and make plays whenever he loses initially, either against single blocks or double teams. This speaks volumes on his natural strength, tenacity, and the development of his block shedding technique.
A War Daddy by definition is...
"One who exhibits a rather large physical appearance and partakes in sports (usually American football). A War Daddy typically demolishes all in front of him."
A fierce defensive player. A term used by coaches to describe an intense bloodthirsty defensive player, whose only aim is to dominate and destroy their opponents.
"A beastly defensive lineman that eats up blockers and spits them out for dinner."
By these definitions, Penn State defensive tackle Austin Johnson is a War Daddy -- one of the top War Daddy prospects in the entire draft. He might not find a landing spot with the Jaguars, but he should make whatever team he lands with extremely pleased with what they get. Because what they are getting is a guy who imposes his will on others and who is just now beginning to scratch the surface of his potential.