Eric Johnson, Missouri State DT | NFL Draft Scouting Report

Missouri State DT Eric Johnson reached the national map this offseason, but is his scouting report worthy of a 2022 NFL Draft selection?

Missouri State, formerly known as Southwest Missouri State until 2005, hasn’t sent a player to the NFL Draft since 2011. In fact, only three players have been drafted from the program this century. Can Missouri State DT Eric Johnson end the drought with his scouting report in the 2022 NFL Draft?

Eric Johnson NFL Draft Profile

  • Position: Defensive Tackle
  • School: Missouri State
  • Current Year: Graduate Senior
  • Height: 6’4 1/4″
  • Weight: 300 pounds
  • Wingspan: 82 1/2″
  • Arm: 33 7/8″
  • Hand: 10 1/8″

Eric Johnson Scouting Report

As is the case with many prospects in the class — and likely for a least a couple more — Johnson is an older prospect. He will turn 24 in July, having spent the last six years at Missouri State. He wasn’t overly productive for the Bears but flashed enough ability to earn an invite to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in Los Angeles.

There, Johnson routinely won his matchups in practice and during the game. As a result, he earned the attention of the Senior Bowl. On his flight home from LA, he was rerouted to Mobile, Alabama, to participate in the prestigious all-star game. Johnson continued his upward trajectory, showcasing a beautiful spin move to beat Kentucky’s Darian Kinnard and a devasting bull rush to knock back Tennessee’s Cade Mays.

It wasn’t perfect for Johnson, but he proved he could hold up against the top competition, something he needed to do after being a five-year starter in the FCS ranks. Despite his performances during the all-star circuit, Johnson was snubbed from the NFL Combine. Regardless, he was able to showcase his athleticism at his pro day: 4.86 40-yard dash, 27.5″ vertical, 8’11” broad, 4.66 short shuttle, 7.58 three-cone, and 20 bench reps.

At 6’4″ and 300 pounds, the only DTs with faster 40 times at the Combine were Georgia’s likely first-round duo of Devonte Wyatt (4.77) and Jordan Davis (4.78). Johnson profiles as a gap-shooting 3-tech in a 4-3 system or 5-tech in a 3-4 due to his athletic potential and lateral spryness. There are plenty of areas he can improve on, but the Missouri State DT owns enough raw talent to be selected on Day 3 — likely between Rounds 5-6.

Where Johnson wins

Johnson’s key traits are his quick first step and 34″ arms. His length and powerful hands lead to knock-back ability with his initial punch. Johnson also flashes functional hand usage and explosiveness in a phonebooth. He is fluid in space and owns the speed to loop on stunts.

Johnson has a wrestling background, and it shows in his grip strength and ability to toss aside off-balance linemen. As a pass rusher, Johnson has showcased spin, half-spin, club/cross shops, and a decent bull rush. When he gets his hands inside, he has the leg drive to push opponents back and keeps his feet moving. Additionally, he has the athleticism and IQ to identify screens and make a play.

But where Johnson shines is against the run. He can square up, gain leverage, and peak into the backfield. Furthermore, he regularly shot across the face of linemen and would play off their momentum. The Missouri State DT can stack and shed, filling the two-gapping mold the NFL has been moving toward. Moreover, Johnson will move blockers to clear gaps and free up LBs to make a play.

It’s also important to note Johnson enrolled as a 235-pound defensive end. Yet, he leaves the Bears as a 300-pound defensive tackle, highlighting his work ethic off the field and in the weight room. He was versatile at Missouri State, playing nose tackle, 3-tech, and even over tackle on occasion. Lastly, Johnson has demonstrated his durability, playing in 55 consecutive games (every contest over the last five years) and seeing 50+ snaps in all but two games last season.

Areas for improvement

While Johnson is an impressive prospect, he is far from perfect. The first thing I noticed with Johnson is his pass rush seems to die out if his first move is thwarted, and he is prone to simply leaning on blockers. He plays with high pad level at times, allowing the opposition to stand him up. As a result, he struggles to regain leverage and often halts his feet.

Although Johnson possesses a quick first step, there are times when he false steps, delaying his attack. To improve his bull rush, he can sink his hips more and keep his head up. Additionally, his lower body strength/tightness leaves room for improvement. Johnson often doesn’t strike cleanly and can get high and wide. Slow hands play into this, and offensive linemen can get a hold of his chest plate first.

Overall, Johnson needs an improved pass-rush plan with better counters so his rushes continue past the initial push. Furthermore, he needs to become more consistent in reading run pays. He can overcommit early and react late on any given snap. His eyes and feet can also be a tad slow when working across the line of scrimmage when engaged with blockers.

However, the most concerning facet may be the fact Johnson never truly dominated against lower competition. When scouting NFL prospects from the FCS level, you want them to be dominant. And while Johnson had his flashes and was strong against the run, he lacked consistency. Much of that is due to raw/poor technique that should only be refined in the pros. Still, being an older/more physically developed prospect and not winning on nearly every rep in the FCS is concerning.

Johnson’s Player Profile

Johnson’s love for football stemmed from his father. Eric Johnson Sr. was an all-conference defensive lineman at Illinois State in 1996. He spent a training camp with the New York Jets in 1997 but spent the next 10 years playing in the CFL, XFL, and various indoor leagues.

Johnson only started one year of high school football — his senior campaign at Plainfield South in Illinois. Yet, you wouldn’t know by looking at his stats, as Johnson generated 17 sacks and 29 tackles en route to earning an all-conference nod.

I mentioned his wrestling background earlier, but it’s not just a throwaway statement. He was second in the 2015 IHSA Class 3A state tournament and was the top-ranked wrestler in his weight class heading into his senior year. In 2016, he finished first at regionals and sectionals but came in third at the state championships.

Despite his success as a wrestler and one year of tremendous football production, Johnson was an unranked recruit. Nevertheless, he received FCS interest and ultimately enrolled at Missouri State.

Johnson’s career at Missouri State

Johnson redshirted his first year with the Bears, building on his frame to hold up against the rigors of college football. He would go on to play in a school-record 55 consecutive games, earning All-MVFC second-teams honors in each of his last two seasons. Johnson finished his career with 131 tackles (19.5 for loss), 6.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 4 fumble recoveries.

The Missouri State product began his collegiate career as an edge rusher before transitioning into a B-gap (over guard) role in 2018. He was a regular on the field-goal block unit and used his long levers to block 4 kicks.

During the pre-draft process, Johnson spoke about how he wants to build a bridge for the players who come after him.

“Of course, I’m doing this for myself, but I’m also doing it for them,” Johnson said. “Because the more success I can help bring to my school’s name, the more chance that someone remembers me and takes a look at Missouri State.”

What they are saying about Johnson

“Eric Johnson (DT, Missouri State) has been a winner this week. Has not looked out of place one bit [at the Senior Bowl]. Really like his balance through contact. Impressed at NFLPA practices/game. Got on a plane and is doing the same in Mobile.” — The Athletic’s Dane Brugler

“Missouri State defensive lineman Eric Johnson was overpowering all week long. I have to go back to tape on him, but he could be a great 5-technique in a 3-4 scheme.” — ESPN’s Todd McShay during the Senior Bowl

Johnson’s NFL Draft ascension

Although he is roughly two inches taller, former Michigan State star and Seattle Seahawks 2017 second-rounder Malik McDowell is a good physical comp for Johnson. Now, I recognize McDowell absolutely tore up the Big Ten at a young age while Johnson couldn’t do the same as an older prospect at the FCS level. Nevertheless, the numbers don’t lie.

  • McDowell (2017 Combine): 6’6″, 295 pounds, 34 3/4″ arms, 10 1/2″ hands, 4.85 40-yard dash, 28.5″ vertical, 9’3″ broad, 4.53 short shuttle, 7.69 three-cone, 23 bench reps
  • Johnson (2022 Pro Day): 6’4 3/8″, 299 pounds, 34 1/4″ arms, 10″ hands, 4.86 40-yard dash, 27.5″ vertical, 8’11” broad, 4.66 short shuttle, 7.58 three-cone, 20 bench reps

McDowell was the far better pass rusher, but I believe Johnson has some untapped potential there. Plus, he doesn’t bring the off-field concerns. Still, they aren’t really close in terms of breakout age and total upside. So don’t take this comp as too much more than they are similar size/athleticism-wise.

Johnson had official 30 visits with the Bears, Bengals, Lions, Packers, Colts, Chargers, Saints, and Steelers. That is a lot of teams taking an interest, and there are presumably plenty more doing their due diligence on the DT. I don’t expect Johnson to have to wait too long to hear his name called on Day 3, becoming the first Missouri State product to be drafted since 2010.

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