By Adam Aniba
The defensive tackle class is strong within the top 60 picks, but there is a significant drop-off after that. Day 2-3 of the draft features a few IDL/DE developmental tweeners with upside, but one particular under the radar FCS prospect garnered some attention during the pre-draft process.
Missouri State defensive tackle Eric Johnson opened eyes during the NFLPA Bowl by blowing up an o-lineman, promptly putting him on his back resulting in a sack. His performance impressed Senior Bowl Executive Director of RSB Jim Nagy. Johnson received a late Senior Bowl invite and quickly jumped on a plane after the NFLPA game and headed to Mobile.
Johnson's ability to line up inside and kick outside when needed, in addition to being a force on special teams, make a Day 3 prospect to keep an eye on.
6'4" 300 lbs | DL | Mizz St
Draft Proj 6th Rd
Career (55 games) 131 tak, 19.5 TFL & 6.5 sacks
'21 (10 games) 43 tak, 6.5 tak for a loss & 3 blocked kicks
Eric Johnson attended Plainfield South High School in Illinois where he was a two sport letterman in football and wrestling. He enjoyed a record breaking senior season, in which he recorded 17 sacks and 29 tackles as the Cougars defensive end. His ability to kick outside and back inside at well, gave offensive coordinators fits, leading to his second consecutive All-Conference award.
His performance on the mat was also notable with Johnson dominating his wrestling weight class, placing 2nd in the class 3A state wrestling tournament his junior year and placing 1st his during his final year.
Johnson received minimal national attention and accepted an offer to play for Missouri State, where redshirted during his freshman season. He mainly played in a rotational role on the defensive line for the next few seasons.
Johnson set a school-recorded playing in 55 consecutive games as a five-year starter for MSU. Johnson lined up inside at DL and DE as a rotational lineman with his senior season being his best. During his final season, Johnson was named to the All-Missouri Valley 2nd-team.
His key moment last season came when MIzz State faced S. Dakota, with Johnson recording 1 of his multiple blocked field goals on the season. On the late game field goal attempt, Johnson got a hand on the ball, halting the go-ahead game winner. On the next series, MSU made the game winning filed goal. Johnsons's non-stop motor and ability to make a significant impact on special teams is what teams hope for in late round prospects.
Explosive off the snap with an effective bull-rush
Impressive length, which led to multiple blocked kicks and knocked down passes at the line of scrimmage
High upside on special teams (3 blocked FS's in '21)
High Intensity style with a non-stop motor
Wrestling background adds to overall value as a mauler in the trenches
Versatility to set the edge in the run game as a situational defensive end
Needs to lower his base/pad level
Lacks counter moves, which at times lead to him being stonewalled when facing double teams
Weak lower-base that will require time in the weight room
Too often relies on his athleticism and needs to show more patience when fighting thru blocks
Older prospect after spending 6 years at MSU (redshirted in '16)
Level of competition will lead to early growing pains
Johnson was an absolute force in the NFLPA Bowl, consistently gaining penetration and keeping o-lineman on skates. During Senior Bowl drills, Johnson displayed his motor and ability to rush the passer.
Although Johnson spent 6 seasons at MSU, he's still considered raw in many areas. NFL coaching will help him utilize his length and develop better hand usage. Immersing the Mizz State DL in a pro weight training regime is also key. He tends to over-rely on his power and bull-rush, over technique, but if when he gets a hold of a QB, it usually ends with a sack/tackle for a loss.
I feel like I showed I was a pretty good player but I also feel like there was some shock value as well," Johnson said. "A lot of the scouts there weren't aware of me. Coming from Missouri State, compared to a lot of the others, that's a small school. Me coming out from a small school and showing out that I have the build and mixture of speed and power to play at that level just kind of shocked a bunch of people that they didn't expect it."
Johnson ran a 4.87 forty time and checked in with an impressive 82.5" wingspan during his pro day. Over the last 3 seasons, Johnson displayed his value on the interior and ability to set the edge as a DE. As a core special team contributor, Jonson was relied on to come up with blocks in key moments and delivered in '21.
Although Johnson still has room to grow as an interior lineman, his ability to immediately add depth in a rotational basis, gives him a legit shot to make an NFL roster. Johnson is a fierce competitor, who attacks the line like a grizzly bear. Some might view his 6 years at Missouri State as a red flag, but he was durable, although possibly underutilized. Coaches and teammates rave about his attention to detail in the film room and others followed his lead.
It's a significant jump in competition for Johnson, but a team investing a 6th-7th round pick on him will have the luxury to develop him slowly. A team with a solid core defensive line group, would be ideal for Johnson to learn behind. In the meantime, he'll immediately carve out a role on special teams as a rookie with tremendous upside for the future.