NFL Draft

2021 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Texas A&M LB Buddy Johnson

From now until the 2021 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.

#1 Buddy Johnson / LB Texas A&M – 6’0” 229 lbs

The Good

  • Led team in tackles final two years of school
  • Tons of experience with 41 games under his belt
  • Served as a veteran leader on the SEC’s top defense, finishing the season ranked ninth nationally in 2020
  • Tested off the charts with a Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 9.22
  • Uses agility and quick feet to shed blocks on inside runs
  • Has ability to fight off blocks using his hands
  • Sure tackler, don’t see him missing many
  • Great at being able to carry backs to the flat

The Bad

  • Lacks the the instincts you’d expect with someone with his experience
  • Undisciplined eyes, often caught going the wrong way on misdirection plays
  • Clunky in zone coverage
  • Doesn’t seem to play as athletic as he tested
  • Average pursuit speed, sometimes effort related
  • Very little man coverage on film
  • Not strong at the point of attack
  • Gets eaten up by larger offensive lineman, unable to disengage due to short arms (31.5”)
  • Undersized for the position

Bio

  • 41 career games played
  • Career Stats: 209 Tackles – 23.5 TFLs – 6.5 Sacks – 1 INT – 4 PD – 3 FF – 2 FR
  • 40 yard dash – 4.58, Short Shuttle – 4.07, Vertical – 38.5”, Broad – 10’8”
  • 2020 – Butkus Award Semifinalist
  • Four-star prospect by Rivals, rated the nation’s No. 19 outside linebacker
  • Was a quarterback in high school

Tape Breakdown

The first play I saw of Buddy Johnson ironically was in the first quarter of his very first game as a true freshman at Texas A&M. The Aggies were visiting the UCLA Bruins for their first game back in 2017 and Johnson was on the kickoff team. I don’t think you’ll have a hard time deciphering who he is in the clip below as he nearly takes the head off of the return man.

 

This describes who Buddy Johnson is as a player, a run-hit guy who will be able to contribute on special teams. This play plus his pro day testing results got me really pumped to see the rest of A&M linebacker’s tape. I found it curious that for someone that led a team in tackles for two seasons, especially a defense that was the best in the SEC in 2020, wasn’t selected to either first or second team All-SEC throughout his career. However, once I dove into the tape of him playing linebacker I was honestly underwhelmed. There’s a ton of warts to his game that will need to get fixed at the next level.

The number one thing that was a red flag when it came to Johnson was his lack of instincts at the position. There were countless times on tape where he was chasing a fake for far too long, taking him completely out of position. I understand taking one or two steps on an option play, but like the play below, it always seemed like Johnson was taking a full second longer than everyone else on the field to react to the actual ball carrier.

 

Here again on an option Johnson gets fooled. While he disengages from a block, he’s looking at the ball carrier but second guesses himself at the last second to look at the quarterback carrying out his fake and lets the ball carrier run right by him.

 

If these were the only two examples on tape I wouldn’t really worry much about it, but the sheer amount of times this same situation happened in the games I watched was surprising. For a senior that’s played in as many games as Johnson, it’s not something you expect to see.

This same lack of instincts floods over to his zone coverage as well. He gets jumpy and impatient when watching the quarterback’s eyes. It’s one thing to be an aggressive ballhawk who’s looking to make a play, but by looking at his career stats of one interception and four pass deflections you can tell this isn’t the case here. Watch this play as Johnson jumps around as the quarterback easily manipulates him with his eyes and pump fakes, so much so that Johnson is no longer in position to even make the tackle on the receiver.

 

Sticking to the idea of pass coverage, I was disappointed to see very few man coverage snaps from Johnson. Now this isn’t his fault as it’s mostly scheme-related. However, with how he tested I was expecting to see him be able to match up with some tight ends and maybe some receivers in trips. Below is one of the few man coverage snaps I was able to find that wasn’t a flat route from a running back.

 

While this may not be straight-up man responsibilities, Johnson’s job here is to “wall-off” the receiver preventing the throw down the seam or across the middle.  Instead, Johnson slow plays it and allows the receiver to run past him. This allows the quarterback to drive the ball on a line, instead of having to put air on it, to get over Johnson, giving the safety no chance at making a play on the ball.

As I previously mentioned, Johnson is able to stay up with running backs on flat routes and eliminating any type of big play. Thanks to his lateral agility and acceleration you won’t see him get beaten to the edge often on this type of play. Both Johnson and the running back lineup on the opposite side of the formation then the play ends up and even with the head start, the running back is not able to outrun Johnson to the edge.

 

Johnson’s biggest area of strength is as a run defender. He has quick feet and great lateral agility. This allows him to slip off blocks for run stops.

 

Johnson also has skilled hands and knows how to use them paired with his agility to get away from incoming lineman. Once he wraps up a defender, you’re not seeing them get away.  He’s a sure tackler.

 

Here’s a play you see Johnson use his smarts. He shifts right along with the motioning receiver. This puts him in a great position for the sweep play. He bench presses the blocking tight end that is split out wide and makes tackle for a short gain.

 

While you may not see it ton, Johnson can lay the wood from time to time. Here, he’s able to take advantage of the lineman coming too far upfield on a combo block and seep into the hole untouched. He lays a nice stick on the running back right at the line of scrimmage.

 

This was one of the best examples I could find of Johnson playing sideline to sideline. This is a bit of a cheat as it is against UNC’s quarterback, Sam Howell, who’s closer to Baker Mayfield than Lamar Jackson. Nevertheless, he’s able to use his speed to beat the blocking tight end to the spot and bring down the quarterback for a loss on the play.

 

While run-stopping is certainly Johnson’s biggest strength, he wasn’t perfect there either. Watch below as it’s another misdirection play that he’s slow to diagnose. Johnson is like a deer in the headlights five yards away from the line of scrimmage and allows the lineman to reach him. If he reacts as quickly as his other linebacker counterpart that gets chop-blocked here, he’s likely able to make the stop around five yards. Instead, he gets eaten up by the lineman and the running back is able to chug along for a 15+ yard gain.

 

This is the last clip we’ll have for Johnson. He has short arms, 31.5” to be exact, which would put him in the 25th percentile for off-ball linebackers. This does not bode well for him when a lineman locks him up. In previous clips, we showed how he can use his hands and agility to evade linemen. However, when he gets locked up, it’s a wrap. He doesn’t have the length or strength to get away, as seen below, where Johnson is pancaked.

 

Overall, I think I may have came in with too high of expectations for Buddy Johnson. He tested great and had solid numbers to back it. With that, I was expecting him to jump off the page of this defense, but often was left uninspired. That’s not to say Johnson can’t make it in the NFL.

He has the tools, but he’ll have to clean up some of his technique and mental processing before he can be a legitimate contributor for an NFL defense. He is a prime prospect for an NFL special teamer and that’s where he’ll have to shine if he wants to play in the NFL before cleaning up the rest of his game. He could be a good project for a linebackers coach, but in terms of the Steelers, I would look elsewhere for a day three linebacker.

Projection: Late Day 3 – Undrafted

Games Watched: vs Arkansas, at South Carolina, , Mississippi St, vs. North Carolina

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