Johnson played outside linebacker in Virginia's 3-4 scheme as a freshman and sophomore before a coaching change sent Johnson to defensive end in the Cavaliers' 4-3 scheme.
For his career, Johnson started 10 games at linebacker as a sophomore and 24 games at end during his final two seasons. He was a solid performer, with his 32.5 tackles for losses ranking 10th on Virginia's career list. He finished with 12.5 sacks, including four as a senior.
He is considered a third-round prospect.
Johnson (6-foot-3 1/2, 268 pounds), who arrived at Virginia as a former high school wide receiver and safety, put in extra hours in the weight room to grow from a 220-pound freshman into a 270-pound run-stuffing defensive force for the Cavaliers.
For teams utilizing a 3-4 defensive alignment — the Packers among them — Johnson has been receiving quite a few workouts as an outside linebacker.
As his modest statistics indicate, Johnson is not known as a pass rusher, as the Cavaliers relied upon him to trail the ball-carrier and use his lateral agility to string plays wide. He lacks ideal size to combat bigger offensive tackles in the trenches but shows good retreat skills and pad level to easily change direction and make plays in pursuit.
His quickness off the snap and long arms to wrap up and secure make him a potential rush end, similar to the style of play demonstrated by the Cleveland Browns' Jabaal Sheard, as he generates most of his pocket pressure from slants and stunts.
"I believe I have the versatility I think teams are looking for," Johnson stated. "I can play in space or with my hand in the dirt, as well."
A conversion to linebacker is a strong possibility, as Johnson has the size and body control to make plays on his feet, along with the edge-setting raw power and lower body strength to anchor vs. traps and pulls in order to drive back ball-carriers with his hitting ability. What catches scouts' attention in film view is the Cavalier's ability to invert tackles, stack and shed.
At Washington D.C.'s Gonzaga College High School, Johnson was a dynamic two-way player for Eagles head coach Joe Reyda. The three-year starter at wide receiver and safety, he was rated the nation's 19th-best strong-side linebacker by Scout.com.
That defensive back history gives Johnson an edge in the pass-coverage duties that are asked of an outside linebacker.
During the Atlantic Coast Conference Football Kickoff before Johnson's senior season, Virginia coach Mike London talked about the progress that Johnson had made with the conversion to defensive end during the 2010 schedule.
"He has a chance to be as good as he wants to be," London said. "He's not an every-down player right now, in my estimation. He's a guy that plays every down but, to be an every-down difference-maker, he's got to raise it up another notch."
Some in the media regarded that quote as London's version of "tough love," particularly because London did not know whether Johnson would average 70 plays, as he did as a sophomore, or the 60 plays that he logged as a junior. Routine physical exams had determined that Johnson has the trait for sickle-cell anemia, a genetic disorder.
"The NCAA tests all athletes now for these traits," London said. "I don't know if there's a correlation to (not) being in the best cardiovascular shape. I don't know if medication changes that, but there's greater awareness. He's had this for a couple of years. You can go hard for two or three plays; then, on that fifth or sixth play, you're gassed."
"In workouts this summer with (strength coach) Evan (Marcus), he'd be out front, out front, out front. Then, all of a sudden, it's, 'What are you doing?' "Now it becomes a matter of management. Get him out, get him rested, get him back in."
Johnson would not discuss his medical situation when giving interviews during the preseason, but he never requested a reduction in his workload. "I feel like I could go 80 plays if I wanted to," Johnson said recently. "Coach (Marcus) put us through a tough program to make sure we were ready."
Johnson's final season got off to a slow start, thanks to a nagging lower leg injury that finally forced him to miss a game vs. Idaho. He again received All-ACC third-team accolades while performing in 566 snaps and starting 12 contests at weak-side end. He was credited with 30 tackles (15 solos) and thanks to a strong second half, he again led the Cavaliers with four sacks and 11 tackles for losses.
After a solid showing at the Senior Bowl, where Johnson practiced at outside linebacker, he further impressed teams with his versatility and athleticism during Virginia's annual Pro Day.
"I think I performed to the best of my abilities," commented Johnson following the event. "I came to put my best foot forward and I think I did that today. Burd reflected on the event by saying, "I was running around here with my teammates one last time, so it was a bittersweet moment for me."
Johnson started 24-of-47 games at Virginia – 24 at weak-side defensive end and ten more at weak-side outside linebacker, participating in 2,275 defensive snaps…Recorded 130 tackles (74 solos) with 12.5 sacks for minus 95 yards, 32.5 stops for losses of 145 yards and a pair of quarterback pressures…Caused and recovered three fumbles, in addition to deflecting seven passes…His 32.5 tackles-for loss tied Kai Parham (2003-05) for tenth on the school career-record chart…His career-high 14.5 stops for loss in 2010 tied Darryl Blackstock (2003) and Kai Parham (2005) for twelfth on the Cavaliers' season-record list.
Johnson started twelve games at weak-side defensive end, missing the Idaho contests while nursing a nagging leg injury (ankle) early in the season…A strong second half earned the senior All-Atlantic Coast Conference third-team honors from Phil Steele, as he led the Cavaliers with four sacks for minus 25 yards and eleven stops for losses totaling 36 yards…Posted 30 tackles (15 solos) with a quarterback pressure, as he caused two fumbles and recovered another…Also deflected a pass.
2011 SEASON HIGHLIGHTS
Johnson's first tackle for the season stopped tailback Jonathan Grimes for a 2-yard loss vs. William & Mary…Made two stops behind the line of scrimmage, including a 9-yard sack of QB Edward Wright-Baker, causing a fumble that Virginia recovered, converting that turnover into a game-winning 23-yard field goal with 1:13 remaining in a 34-31 defeat of Indiana, as Johnson earned ACC Player of the Week honors…Johnson caused another fumble after sacking Austin Davis for minus-2 yards in the third quarter vs. Southern Mississippi…Returned from the injured list to record five tackles vs. Georgia Tech and had a 4-yard sack of QB Jacory Harris among his two tackles behind the line of scrimmage vs. Miami…In the Duke clash, the senior had two more stops for loss, including a 10-yard sack of QB Sean Renfree on third-and-10 to force a punt in the waning moments of the first half.
Johnson shifted to weak-side defensive end, as he was selected All-ACC third-team by Phil Steele and All-State second-team by the Roanoke Times…One of seven Cavaliers to start all 12 games, he recorded a career-high 53 tackles (30 solos), leading the team with 6.5 sacks for minus-45 yards and 14.5 stops for losses of 61 yards, which tied for 12th on the school season record list…His sacks total ranked sixth and his tackles behind the line of scrimmage tied for fifth in the conference…Also recovered two fumbles and had four pass deflections…Made six tackles (four solos) with a 2-yard sack and two stops for loss vs. Richmond in the season opener…Delivered a career-high three sacks and four stops for minus-20 yards among his six solo tackles vs. Virginia Military Institute…Was in on a 10-yard sack and two stops behind the line of scrimmage vs. Florida State…Delivered a career-best 10 tackles (five solos) that included 1.5 stops for loss while recovering a fumble vs. Georgia Tech…Had a 14-yard sack and six hits vs. Eastern Michigan and made five tackles with a fumble recovery vs. Southern California…Closed out the season assisting on two tackles behind the line of scrimmage among his four tackles vs. Virginia Tech.
Johnson played in 12 games as a weak-side outside linebacker, starting the final 10 contests…Recorded 40 tackles (26 solos) with two sacks for minus-25 yards, five stops for losses of 45 yards and one quarterback pressure…Caused a fumble and deflected a pass.
One of five true freshmen to see playing time, Johnson played in a stretch of six-straight games between Connecticut and Georgia Tech before being sidelined with an ankle injury…Finished the year with seven tackles (three solos) that included a pair of stops for minus-3 yards and a pass break-up.
2008 Season…Sat out the Southern California and Richmond games to begin the season and the final four contests vs. Miami, Wake Forest, Clemson and Virginia Tech due to a nagging ankle sprain.
2009 Season…Suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder vs. Boston College and underwent surgery to repair in December.
2011 Season…Sat out the Idaho clash and was bothered early in the season with an ankle sprain.
4.78 in the 40-yard dash…1.71 10-yard dash…2.79 20-yard dash…4.39 20-yard shuttle…
7.21 three-cone drill…35-inch vertical jump…9'7" broad jump…Bench pressed 225 pounds 16 times…33 _-inch arm length…9-inch hands…79 _-inch wingspan…25 Wonderlic score.
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Dave-Te Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. With the NFL Draft Report, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.