Derrick Johnson has been a standout on the Texas defense since he played his first game as a true freshman. In that freshman season he recorded 83 tackles despite starting in just two games. That stellar first year performance earned him the title of the Sporting News National Freshman of the Year.
Johnson raised the bar his sophomore year by recording 120 tackles and snagging four interceptions. He then duplicated that season as a junior and became the first consensus first-team All-American linebacker from the University of Texas since way back in 1983. After his junior season, Johnson was also selected as a Butkus Award finalist which is the award given out to the nation's top linebacker.
After a spectacular 130 tackle senior season, Johnson was voted unanimously as a first-team All-American and the Big 12 Conference Defensive Player of the Year. He finally won the prestigious Butkus Award and also received the Nagurski Trophy by the Football Writers Association of America who felt Johnson was the nation's best defensive college football player. He was also a finalist for the Walter Camp Award, the Lombardi Award, the Bednarik Award, and the Lott Trophy.
Johnson finished his college career with 458 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 9 interceptions, 12 forced fumbles, and 5 fumble recoveries.
Without a doubt Johnson is the most athletic linebacker in the 2005 draft. He has great speed that allows him range to roam from sideline to sideline. Johnson also possesses the ability to change directions on a dime. That makes him a fluid player that can move effortlessly across the field. He also has very good ball awareness and does a good job of diagnosing plays.
Johnson, like the late Derrick Thomas has the uncanny ability to strip the ball and create a fumble or intercept a pass if its thrown in his direction. He is a very fun player to watch and he leaves you on the edge of your seat just waiting for him to jump up to sting the offense. He is the perfect playmaker for the Chiefs defense.
With that said he does have some weaknesses that concern me when it comes to translating his game to the professional level. In college he would routinely deliver the hit with his shoulder pads without wrapping up and driving through the ball carrier.
In the NFL, running backs and tight ends will easily break free from Johnson's grasp unless he develops better skills at the next level. He needs to learn to wrap players up instead of hanging on and then trying to drag them to the ground. He needs to roll his hips and drive his legs to make the tackle. That has been an Achilles Heal for the Chiefs in the past with their linebackers and they'll have to work on correcting some of his bad habits.
One concern of NFL scouts is Johnson's lack of strength. He's going to need to mix it up with NFL linemen and he'll need to hit the weight room hard in the off-season.
At Texas, he's been over-powered at times by below average lineman, that's something that will be exposed on Sunday's in the NFL. Without more coaching, he does not have what it takes to take on an NFL blocker on a consistent basis play in and play out. He needs to improve his bench press by another 75 pounds to have the upper body strength he is going to need to rip through and punch offensive linemen. His lower body strength is adequate but he will need to improve that as well if he wants to become an every down dominant player.
Johnson will likely go in the Top 10 on draft day. He might not be the savior that his new employer will be expecting but he has the upside to risk taking early in Round One. But playing along side a smallish defensive end like (ala Jared Allen) could be disastrous for him as offensive coordinators would surely game plan to run directly at them.
He will be most successful on a team that can protect him with their defensive line and the Chiefs are making strides to doing just that with the addition of Junior Siavvi and Lional Dalton a year ago.
Luckily for Johnson his weaknesses are coach-able though it might take him a year or two for him to reach his lofty draft day selection. Still most teams who are looking at taking him in the first round, like the Chiefs; will draft Johnson based on his potential to be a playmaker in the NFL.
Derrick Johnson reminds a lot of former Chief Donnie Edwards or who now plays for San Diego and San Francisco standout Julian Peterson. when you factor in pure raw athletic ability. If Johnson can improve on his strength and his tackling he has the chance to become a perennial pro-bowl player.
TAIL OF THE TAPE
Player Name: Derrick Johnson
College: Texas Class: Senior
Position: Outside Linebacker
Arm Length: 32"
40 Yard Dash: 4.54
Bench Press: 345lbs
TAIL OF THE TAPE