It can be easy to overlook a prospect like Boston College’s Zion Johnson. He’s big, but not uncommonly massive for an offensive lineman. He’s athletic, but not a workout warrior who will land on the “Freaks List” or blow up the Combine. And while he has played left tackle, his best position is inside at guard — and inherently less flashy position.
But while Johnson can be overlooked, he is one of those players who shows up on every play, does his job, and does it well.
Johnson is the type of guard who can execute just about any blocking scheme asked of him, and be a player you can win with. That has a value all its own and is a trait teams need to consider when building their offensive line.
As it so happens, the New York Giants might have a need at both guard positions in 2022. Could Zion Johnson fill one of those needs?
Prospect: Zion Johnson (77)
Games Watched: vs. Clemson (2020), vs. Missouri (2021), vs. Clemson (2021), vs. Virginia Tech (2021)
Games Played (starts): 49
Best: Athleticism, play strength, versatility
Projection: A starting guard with scheme versatility
(Johnson is the left guard, number 77)
Boston College’s Zion Johnson is a stout yet athletic guard prospect with intriguing versatility.
Johnson is a multi-year starter at both left guard and left tackle. His background at the tackle position suggests significant athleticism for the guard position, which his tape confirms. Johnson shows excellent short-area quickness for a guard, easily mirroring interior pass rushers. He has above-average range in both pass protection and run blocking, and is easily able to get in position or intercept late pressure.
Johnson has solid natural leverage at 6-foot-3, 315 pounds, which he maximizes with generally good knee bend. He does a good job of keeping his hips and pads low through the start of the play, allowing him to bring his considerable play strength to bear. Johnson is a powerful guard prospect, who is easily able to absorb bull rushes from interior defenders, as well as create movement along the line of scrimmage as a run defender. He is routinely able to bench press defenders and dig defensive linemen out of gaps, creating good running lanes.
He has solid scheme versatility and the ability to play in both man and zone blocking schemes. Johnson has the strength and power to hold up in man-gap schemes, as well as the athleticism and lateral agility to play in zone schemes or act as a pulling guard. He also works off of combo blocks and does a good job of getting to the second level quickly.
There are few true weaknesses in Johnson’s game, though it would be nice to see him play with more of an explosive ‘pop’. He has heavy, active hands and does a good job of placing them to control defenders, but he rarely creates a noticeable ‘jolt’ with his initial contact. Johnson can also be visibly late off the snap and is occasionally the last lineman moving. Finally, while he is a good athlete for a guard, he can let his knees straighten over the course of longer reps, compromising his leverage and his balance if he gets over-extended.
Overall Grade: 7.9
Zion Johnson projects as a starting guard at the NFL level, with the versatility to execute both man and zone blocking schemes well. He is a tough, consistent, and competitive guard who does the little things well. He consistently works to gain inside leverage with his hands, use good angles to maximize rushing lanes, and works very well off of combo blocks with his center.
Johnson might not make the splashy (for a lineman) plays that will earn him a high draft selection or a Pro Bowl notoriety, but he should be a steady, dependable presence on any NFL offensive line. There are a few rough areas in his game which he can improve upon, most notably some inaccuracy in space and a tendency to lunge at defenders if he lets his knees straighten over the course of long reps. However, he has a strong foundation to challenge for (and win) a starting job early in his career.
His experience and ability to serve as emergency tackle depth should also provide value for teams considering him in April’s draft.