Teams looking for a big, productive nose tackle are setting their sights on Austin Johnson coming out of Penn State, who is probably going to end up playing for either the Indianapolis Colts or the Pittsburgh Steelers, both very interested in making him part of their team.
Johnson was a pretty good basketball player in high school and his sister plays for Michigan State. He had an excellent final season for the Nittany Lions, accumulating 78 tackles, 15 for loss, and six sacks while finishing up with his journalism degree, in hope of being in some NFL panel when his pro career is over.
It’s quite obvious what the Steelers and Colts, both in need of a nose tackle, see in Johnson. He’s very big (6’4, 314 lbs) and very good against the run. But he’s not just big – he’s quick and moves very well for a man his size, avoiding double teams or simply pushing right through them, and has been the one part of the Penn State offensive line Hackenberg couldn’t complain about with his ability to dominate centers.
So why isn’t Johnson going to be an earlier pick? He isn’t too much of a pass rusher at this stage, and has had a couple of games last season (especially against Ohio State) in which he was completely dominated. Nose Tackles are usually signed for their ability to stuff the run, but there has to be some ability to get to the quarterback, and NFL teams wonder how soon Johnson will be able to get to that level once he’s drafted.
He’ll be a second round pick and won’t drop any further. He’s ready to start right now in the NFL and be good at eating up blocks with the ability to keep linebackers clean, with a lot more hustle and energy we often see from nose tackles. Can he become truly special at the position? It depends on how he develops in his first season or two in the NFL.