From now until the 2019 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.
#33 Gary Johnson/LB/Texas/6’0”, 226
-Explosive mover with obvious above-average athleticism
-Possesses adequate range for the position and a motor that stays revved up
-Packs a punch coming downhill to the tackle point
-Great lateral speed for the position with a quick first step to get moving
-At his best when he’s kept clean and can read and run in space
-Slow to process for the position and relies too much on his athleticism to make up for delay
-Gets swallowed up by blockers when playing the run between the tackles and really labors to work off of blocks
-Struggles to work through any sort of traffic in front of him
-Ineffective blitzer that has no plan or any sort of pass rush arsenal; gets stymied way too much when rushing the passer
-Has a sprinter’s background; clocked a 10.59-second 100m dash in high school
-Two-year linebacker for the Longhorns who played in 26 career games with 20 starts
-Finished Texas career with 150 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks, had three forced fumbles, and one fumble recover
-JUCO transfer from Dodge City Community College that was named All-Region and two-time All-Kansas Jayhawk Community College performer at inside linebacker
-Named second team All-Big 12 in 2018
-Ran a 4.43 40-yard dash at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine, and added a 33.5-inch vertical jump
Throughout the 2018 season, as well as the buildup to the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine, I heard quite a bit of buzz about Texas linebacker Gary Johnson. Watching him live throughout the season, I saw a doppelganger of current Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Vince Williams, at least in play style, on-field mannerisms, and build.
That all changed once Johnson clocked a 4.43 40-yard dash at the combine though, as Johnson is much more athletic and explosive than Williams, no disrespect to 98. Johnson’s performance at the combine made me curious and forced me to put on his tape, and, well…I came away less than impressed.
There are plenty of folks out there that like Johnson and have him highly rated, but I came away feeling as though he’s not a building block on defense and is more of a special teams player/sub package defender at this point, largely due to his slow processing skills and a real inability to work through traffic and get off of blocks playing the run. Add in the very little work I saw him put in as a pass defender, and I just don’t see it with Johnson.
In the limited snaps in pass coverage, I saw a guy who didn’t trust what he was reading, let guys cross his face on shallow routes, and was really delayed in things clicking, as far as what his assignment was.
Here against Maryland to open the 2018 season, you can see the confusion start right away for Johnson. He’s late to find the receiver coming into his area on the field, lets him cross his face and passes him off like he’s in zone before realizing that’s his man in man coverage. From there, he runs into the referee and lets up a nice catch-and-run by the Terrapins.
Here’s one other pass defense rep by Johnson against Maryland. Playing more of a $ backer position here way off of the line of scrimmage, Johnson gets caught watching in the backfield before flipping his hips late to try to turn and run with the Maryland tight end. It’s too late as the tight end created enough separation for the touchdown over the top.
It’s not all bad for Johnson though. As I said early in this post, he’s a high-effort player with a good amount of range. It helps that his motor constantly runs hot.
Originally asked to blitz here, Johnson bails out as the Baylor quarterback releases the football. Watch Johnson though; he never gives up on this play as he turns and runs down the receiver, stopping him short of the first down. I’d guess he ran roughly 25 yards here just to make this play.
Playing the run, this is what I mean when I say Johnson is at his best playing the run when kept clean. He’s more suited for an off-ball position in a 4-3, whether that’s the MIKE or the SAM. When he’s kept clean by the defensive linemen in front of him, he’s able to use that athleticism to roam free and make plays all over the field.
I love the way Johnson reads this one quickly and works laterally while coming downhill, knifing past blockers for the tackle for loss against TCU last season.
Overall, I am nowhere near as high on Johnson as others are at this point in the draft process. He’s a fine player that has the chance to develop into an adequate starter in a 4-3 scheme, while also carving out a solid role on special teams, thanks to his speed and athleticism. I like a few other linebackers in this class much more than Johnson though, so I wouldn’t call his name until the fourth round at the earliest.
Games Watched: Baylor (2018), Maryland (2018), Kansas State (2018), TCU (2018), USC (2018), Georgia (2018)
Projection: Early Day 3