From now until the 2022 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents. Today, I am profiling a small school defensive lineman that reportedly is coming to visit the Steelers later this month.
#93 Eric Johnson, DL, Missouri State (R-Sr.) — 6043, 299 lbs.
Pro Day Measurements
|Player||Ht/Wt||Hand Size||Arm Length||Wingspan|
|Eric Johnson||6043/299||10 1/8″||34 1/4″||83 1/4″|
|40-Yard Dash||10-Yard Dash||Short Shuttle||3-Cone|
|Broad Jump||Vertical||Bench Press|
— Size and length the Steelers look for
— Good motor and pursuit
— Heavy hands when the times them well
— Play strength to push the pocket
— Effective penetrator on stunts
— Very good awareness on screens
— Good two gap defender able to stack and shed
— Strong anchor and good effort versus double team blocks
— Pass rush plan was limited
— Timing and usage of his hands when pass rushing
— Counters when initial rush was ineffective
— Timing when shedding blocks
— Lateral agility and quickness as a one gap penetrator
— Explosiveness up field at the snap
— Slow to get involved early in games
— Didn’t dominate statistically vs level of competition
— Career – 100 tackles, 37 solo, 13 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 1 FF, 1 FR, 4 blocked kicks
— 2021 – 34 tackles, 16 solo, 5.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 1 FR, 3 blocked kicks
— 2021 All-MVFC second-team honors
— 48 games, 25 starts
— Started at least seven games in every season
— Also wrestled in high school
— Birthday 7/16/98 (23)
— Majoring in Graduate Studies
— Invitee to NFLPA Bowl and Senior Bowl
The Steelers don’t often dip their toe into the FCS pool but Eric Johnson has caught their eye. He had a busy 2021 with the scheduling changes from the 2020 season. He played in 19 games from February through November. Primarily he was aligned inside as the 1/3 technique defensive tackle and over the center on passing downs.
As a pass rusher, he has solid snap quickness and heavy hands when he times them right. As a power rusher he has good hand placement and pad level and had solid push into the pocket. He will use his hands on cross chops and clubs to get the blocker off balance. He was effective as the penetrator on stunts clearing a path for the end to loop around and as a looper he slides laterally to the outside before trying to accelerate around the edge. On screens, he displayed very good awareness and pursuit outside and downfield. When his pass rush wasn’t getting home he made the effort to get his hands into passing lanes.
At Northern Iowa, Johnson (93) engages the left guard and loops to the outside record the sack.
At Oklahoma State, lined up over the center he will club the right guard to get him off balance and get into the backfield.
At Southern Illinois, I really liked the awareness and effort here. Lined up over the right guard he start to pass rush, then recognize the running back and drop out to cover him and finish by chasing to the sideline to help prevent the first down run.
Vs UT-Martin, here are a couple of examples of him against the screen diagnosing and pursuing to make the play.
Against the run when playing a two gap scheme he used good hand placement and pad level to square up and control the blocker while keeping eyes on the ball. He has good play strength to shed blockers and make the stop in his gaps. He has a good anchor and is difficult to move off his spot having good balance and pad level and he fights through double team blocks. Against pulling blockers, he holds his ground well to clog running lanes and can set the edge when the scheme had him loop outside. As a one gap defender when shaded to a gap he was solid getting penetration.
At Northern Iowa, with the backside pulling he is left unblocked and he shows off his athleticism to get into the backfield in a blink to make the tackle.
At Southern Illinois, he will use good pad level and strength to stack and shed the right guard to make the quick tackle.
Vs UT-Martin, he gets under the left guard and pushes him into the backfield to cut off the run and make the stop.
Vs UT-Martin, here are a couple more examples of the stack and shed to make the tackle.
His pass rush plan was limited and needs to be developed to implement more options and work on his counters. His explosiveness moving forward was marginal most of the time. The timing of his hands is inconsistent taking away from his power when he fires them too early. He had limited attempts to rush using his hands for rips or swims. When shedding blockers his timing was just adequate and needs to be sped up. As a one gap defender he lacked the quickness laterally to get across the face of the blocker. He is a slow starter to get involved in games. The majority of his tackles seem to come in the second half of games.
At North Dakota State, playing over the center he fires out his hands too quickly and it leads to an ineffective rush.
At Southern Illinois, at the 3 tech he tries to cross the face of the right gap but gets pushed out of the play.
Overall, Johnson is an FCS player with good size, length and athleticism. He played primarily inside at the 0-3 technique in a defense that mixed in one and two gap schemes. Against the pass he has the strength to push the pocket and is very good against screens. As a run defender, he was best in a two gap scheme to stack and shed blocker and he pursues the ball well.
Areas to improve include developing a pass rush plan including how he uses his hands and counters when his first move is ineffective. Timing his hands to not diminish his strength, improving his explosiveness at the snap and becoming more involved early in games would be beneficial.
There is interest in the NFL for Johnson as he has at least six or seven pre-draft visits lined up already. While he played inside in college he could also be used as the 5-technique defensive end. He has basically the same height/weight/length measurables as Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Chris Wormley. His best fit would be in a 2 gap system but he’ll have to improve his pass rush to be and effective three down player. If he makes a roster he’ll be a rotational player getting 8-10 snaps a game and a special team player initially.
Additionally, his athleticism displayed at his Pro Day was comparable to some of the top defensive lineman at the Combine. So while many sites have him as a UDFA I don’t think he’ll get that far and will definitely get drafted. He profiles closely to Chris Wormley based on size, athleticism and skill set coming into the NFL.
Projection: Undrafted Free Agent
Depot Draft Grade: 6.4 End of Roster/ Practice Squad (6th Round)
Games Watched: 2021 – At Northern Iowa, At Oklahoma State, At North Dakota State, At Southern Illinois, Vs UT-Martin