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After draft drop, Minnesota Vikings DT Jaleel Johnson sees opportunity ahead

Jaleel Johnson was part of a stacked draft class at defensive tackle, but he’s looking forward, not in the past, and sees a big opportunity ahead of him with the Minnesota Vikings.

Jaleel Johnson says he has moved on from his performance at the NFL Scouting Combine, which is understandable.

With the 2017 NFL draft class stacked at defensive tackle, Johnson didn’t turn in a performance that helped his stock. He finished in the second half of the 58 prospects at his position in most of the events, but perhaps most disappointing for the third-heaviest defensive lineman there was his bench press. He finished tied for 42nd out of the 49 that competed in that event, putting up 225 pounds 19 times … with a caveat.

“The thing is I did 21 reps, but they didn’t count the two reps because I guess it bounced off my chest. I felt like I could have done a lot more, but the Combine and all that, that’s in the past,” Johnson said at rookie minicamp. “I’m not really worried about the Combine anymore. That’s dead and gone. My focus right now is contributing to this team.”

Now working with the Minnesota Vikings after they selected him in the fourth round, Johnson said “everybody is getting bigger and stronger” in the team’s strength and conditioning program.

While prospects typically start training for the Combine at the end of their college career, Johnson said it felt good to get back on a football field for rookie minicamp last weekend.

Getting used to a new scheme will be one of the bigger challenges for the defensive tackle over the next two months.

“Really, to get back into a playbook and learn a new scheme, it’s overwhelming but it’s very exciting,” he said.

“It could be a little bit of a hassle, but if you really stay focused and 100 percent committed to what you’re doing, then it really shouldn’t be a problem.”

Johnson is working at both the three-technique and nose tackle. He won’t take over Linval Joseph’s role on the nose, but with Sharrif Floyd struggling to return after a knee surgery last fall that has caused nerve damage, there is a need at his defensive tackle position.

“I see an opportunity, but nothing is ever given. It’s something I have to really work for,” Johnson said. “I’m here now just because I worked my tail off just all throughout college. I’m here now and the work never stops.”

Analytics site Pro Football Focus ranked Johnson seventh in pass-rush productivity at 10.4, generating 27 hurries, eight quarterback hits and eight sacks in 2016 and believes he can “jack up blockers” with power. 

Johnson agrees, but said it’s more than just natural ability.

“Nothing ever comes natural unless you’re just a freak athlete. That’s something that I’ve worked on ever since my college days, since freshman year in college, and still working on it right now,” he said. “My game is not perfect. No one’s game is every perfect. There’s always little things you can fix and that’s why I’m out here right now with Coach Patterson and Coach Rodriguez. Those guys are really on me, trying to tweak the little things so that way, come game time or during team situations, I’m in the best situation possible.”

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