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2016 NFL Draft: Austin Johnson could be the best Day 2 defensive lineman

Austin Johnson is a rare gem, but is he valuable enough to warrant a high pick?

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants have rebuilt their pass-rush through free agency. Additions such as Damon Harrison and Olivier Vernon, and the key re-signing of Jason Pierre-Paul, mean this unit is poised to make a much needed jump in 2016. However, the work is never done. The defensive line is a group that requires multiple waves of talent to succeed. Simply having four good starters will not do, and with their two most recent Super Bowl wins coming on the back of a deep rotation of linemen, the Giants know this better than most.

Could Penn State's Austin Johnson be the latest addition to an already re-worked arsenal? If he slips out of the first round, he could be a valuable selection in Round 2, or an absolute steal in Round 3. He's a stocky defensive tackle who can be unleashed to keep a fresh rotation and make the Giants one of those teams you simply cannot run against.


Height: 6-foot-4

Weight: 314 pounds

Arm Length: 32 3/4"

Hand Size: 9 7/8"

40 Time: 5.32 seconds

3-cone drill: 7.84 seconds

20-yard shuttle: 4.75 seconds

Bench press: 25 reps

Vertical jump: 26 inches

Broad jump: 99 inches


  • For a 314-pound player, his athleticism is better than a lot of guys who play much lighter.
  • Relentless, even when faced with double teams.
  • Succeeds in lots of unglamorous techniques such as occupying multiple players and racking up interior tackles in the run game.
  • Intelligent guy who finished his degree with plans for post-football life before declaring for the draft.
  • Keeps square when blocked, allowing him to dictate what direction to advance the play.
  • Will improve with next-level coaching for his hands and pass-rushing.


  • Dominant against small schools, but was visibly neutralized against top teams like Ohio State.
  • Despite being listed as a nose-tackle, and playing as a true 1-technique, he may not be capable enough to man the middle of an NFL 3-4 defense.
  • Not elite at either pass-rushing or run-defense, though offers a strong base talent for both.

Prospect Video

I have included two videos here to show the highs and lows of Johnson's time with Penn State. In the Maryland video, you'll see a future Hall of Famer, and against Ohio State, you'll see a guy struggling against better competition. The reality lies somewhere in between, and it's important to not take one game in a vacuum.

Big Board Rankings

Big Blue View - 32nd

Mocking The Draft - 36th

CBS - 44th

Draft Tek - 77th

Does He Fit With the Giants?

There is always room for another good defensive lineman. Some may point to the signing of Harrison as a reason to not draft Johnson, but that's too reductive. Instead, consider the possibility that this team wants a multitude of mammoth interior defenders to plug those holes. Maybe this is just their type of guy, and if that's the case, Johnson will fit in nicely. Between fatigue and general injuries, you can never be too deep on the line. Johnson would be a classic case of the Giants strengthening their strengths, and if he's there on Day 2 for either of the team's selections, he could be the pick.

Final Thoughts

Steve Spagnuolo inherited a defensive roster lacking the kind of players he usually craves. Wisely, he spent a year figuring out who works and who doesn't before looking to overhaul the team to fit his scheme. What they've done with the defense so far has been promising, and there's definite talent there, but it remains a shallow pool. Picks like Johnson are the difference between a strong line in September and a strong line in December. Depth, rotation, options; these are the keys to success.