This past year, the LSU Tigers saw four of their defensive linemen move on to the NFL and get drafted; three starters and one rotational defensive end. The lone remaining starter who is back for the Bayou Bengals is Anthony Johnson, their talented defensive tackle. In spite of the amount of talent around him and getting the least amount of publicity of the group to this point, Johnson has been a remarkable player in his career thus far. Johnson played a significant role as a freshman on one of the best, if not the best, defenses LSU has ever fielded that went to the National Title game before falling to Alabama.
In his sophomore season, Johnson continued his development as a player and increased his impact for the Tigers defense with 10 tackles for loss and 3 sacks from the 3-technique spot or heads up over the guard in a 2-technique position and even some time as a nose tackle head up over the center in an odd man front. Now, entering his junior year, Johnson becomes the focal point of the defensive line and will go from one of a number of talented players to the main guy the opposition has to stop, which will be worth watching this season.
Johnson has great size for the position with terrific strength and quickness. He has shown a lot of talent and potential that will make him an intriguing player and while he needs to work on his balance and avoid ending up on the ground as much in addition to adding to what he already does well as a player, the only area where Johnson really needs to prove himself is that he can handle being the focal point of the LSU defensive line and show he can be an impact player. Johnson looks like a Top 50 pick at this point but with continued development, both physically and his technique, he could warrant a first round pick, should he decide to declare after this season.
Vitals & Build
Johnson is listed at 6’3” 310lbs with impressive strength and agility. He appears to have the frame to continue adding strength and could end up at 315 to 320lbs by the time he ends up making the leap to the NFL. Johnson shows an impressive motor to this point, but it is worth noting that because of the talent level LSU has along the defensive line, they are able to rotate their guys to keep them fresh. Nevertheless, Johnson never looks like a guy who is holding back. He seems to bring a great effort each and every play he is in there.
Snap Anticipation & First Step
Johnson is consistently able to fire off the ball quickly and immediately put pressure on the opponent to adjust. Occasionally, he will get caught trying to guess the snap count and get caught jumping early but he is always looking to anticipate the snap and fire off the ball as close to when the ball is snapped as possible, so the occasional jump is not the end of the world.
He possesses a terrific first step that is fast enough and covers enough ground where he is able to catch opponents by surprise or force them to adjust to what he is doing as rather than Johnson adjusting to them. Whether he is shooting a gap or going heads up with the guy across from him, he has the same explosive step and it enables him to use a great deal of power while maintaining his leverage and pad level.
Johnson has demonstrated a nice array of moves already in his career that he can use to defeat blocks. He has a great bull rush where he is able to just drive his opponent into the backfield and bench press them to create space for him to get separation and make a play on the ball carrier. With that bull rush, Johnson shows a push-pull move where he will get opponents leaning so far forward to try to stop him that he can get them to fall forward and slip past them.
Johnson also shows a solid swim move to try to get past opponents when he wants to go with quickness. Lastly, he has flashed an impressive spin move which is extremely quick and clean that can catch opponents by surprise. The spin move, especially one as effective as Johnson’s can be addictive for some defensive linemen, but Johnson may want to use his a little more than he has, especially when he is able to snap around and get to the quarterback.
Johnson’s biggest contribution against the running game is usually in the form of being stout and creating opportunities for teammates, particularly the linebackers to come in and make plays. He has displayed the ability to anchor and hold up against double teams at times. Johnson is also able to collapse the pocket at times and force running backs to have to run around him, especially if he is able to get the guard or center one on one.
While he is most commonly creating opportunities for his teammates, he has shown the ability to disengage and make plays on the ball carrier himself. Because of his quickness and strength, he has been able to get into the backfield and blow up plays before they have a chance to get started. Johnson also has shown that he does a good job of tracking and locating the football and rarely falls victim to misdirection.
He also moves down the line well laterally and is able to work through trash effectively for the most part. Johnson also takes good angles when it comes to cutting off the run or when quarterbacks pull down the ball and run with it. He is able to minimize damage or secure tackles for loss/sacks in these situations as a result.
Johnson will occasionally get pushed off the ball and needs to work on his balance as he ends up on the ground too much, but he has shown to be a tremendous asset in run defense and should only continue to get better. When Johnson ends up on the ground, it is usually because his body angle is so far forward where an opposing offensive lineman will step back and he will go to the ground. He gets up quickly every time, but he still needs to do a better job of staying on his feet.
Johnson’s pass rushing game is still a work in progress, but he shows a great deal of potential going forward in this area. Partly due to the talent along the LSU defensive line with so many talented pass rushers going after the quarterback and opposing passers looking to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible to counter the rush.
He is able to collapse the pocket and get opponents off balance with strength before using quickness to get past them and get after the quarterback. The one bad habit Johnson needs to reduce or eliminate is how often he dives at opposing quarterbacks. Too often, he will have the opportunity to run a quarterback down and he will simply lunge at them and while he has had some success, this is likely reinforcing a bad habit. More often than not, he ends up missing by diving at the quarterback and is better off staying on his feet and chasing them down, if for no other reason than it is more difficult to throw through him than over him lunging. Johnson shows good closing speed and athleticism to track down the quarterback, so he is doing the opponent a favor by diving.
Johnson could also do more in terms of trying to get his arms up to deflect passes when he is not going to get to the quarterback. In two seasons, he has only deflected one pass, so this is another aspect he can add to his game.
Johnson’s best fit appears to be in a 4-3 front, but he is a versatile enough player where he can play the nose, head up over the guard, or in between the guard and tackle. He appears to have the tools to line up anywhere as a defensive tackle in an even front and be an effective contributor. Johnson has shown he can be a terrific run defender and can get after the quarterback, so he gives a defensive coordinator a ton of options and LSU has taken full advantage.
Johnson has been given looks as a nose tackle in an odd man front and he could probably play nose in the NFL, but he appears better suited to play as a 5-technique defensive end in the 3-4. His ability to hold up on the run with necessary length to contain plays and force them inside with the explosiveness and athletic ability to rush the passer from that spot and then he can kick inside to a tackle spot on obvious rushing downs if a team likes to use an even front in those situations.
|Sat, August 31||vs. TCU|
|Sat, Sept. 7||vs. UAB|
|Sat, Sept. 14||vs. Kent State|
|Sat, Sept. 21||vs. Auburn|
|Sat, Sept. 28||at Georgia|
|Sat, Oct. 5||at Mississippi State|
|Sat, Oct. 12||vs. Florida|
|Sat, Oct. 19||at Ole Miss|
|Sat. Oct. 26||vs. Furman|
|Sat, Nov. 9||at Alabama|
|Sat, Nov. 23||vs. Texas A&M|
|Fri, Nov. 29||vs. Arkansas|
Right off the bat, the game against TCU is an interesting test featuring SEC against the Big XII in Cowboys Stadium at night, on national television and seeing how LSU will be able to handle losing the talent they did. Johnson will need to anchor the line and have a big impact to get that defense in a good flow and win the game. After that, the game in Athens against Georgia will be a good matchup for Johnson to prove himself against a running and passing team. The under the radar matchup that could be a must watch for draftniks could end up being against Mississippi State which could feature a large amount of Johnson against the Bulldogs’ Gabe Jackson, a talented guard prospect who could warrant a high pick in his own right. The Bayou Bengals get to host Florida, but they will run the ball the entire game and Johnson will need to stay fresh and display that motor the way through for them to win the game. Then, the final three games are a rough stretch starting in Tuscaloosa to play Alabama who will run to set up the pass typically. They follow that up by hosting Texas A&M and trying to stop Johnny Manziel and the Aggie offense. Lastly, they have a short week in a potential let down game the day after Thanksgiving against Arkansas. This could be a difficult motivation game and just finding the stamina to play the regular season finale, even if it is against Bret Bielema in his first year running the program.
Johnson’s versatility and ability to be effective in so many different areas makes him similar to Muhammad Wilkerson of the New York Jets. Wilkerson played in an odd front coming out of Temple but he has shown he can play just about anywhere on the defensive line and be effective, much like Johnson. They have come at this from opposite angles with Wilkerson coming from the 3-4 and Johnson coming from the 4-3, but they end up being similar in what they can offer an NFL team. And with continued development, Johnson may end up being drafted at a similar spot in the draft as Wilkerson and could go higher.
Johnson is a big ball of talent that should only continue to develop into a tremendous prospect with another year of play as the focal point of the LSU defensive line, if not the defense as a whole. Assuming he stays healthy this year, Johnson will finish this season with about 40 games of experience, which will only help him going into the NFL. Anthony Johnson looks like a Top 50 pick right now with the ability to move up and potentially secure a spot in the first round depending on when he opts to go into the draft.