Iowa defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson is one of the top (if not the top) defensive lineman prospects who attended the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, last week. Since I’ll be covering DL here at Inside the Pylon for the 2017 Draft I wanted to get acclimated to a top prospect like Johnson before diving in full time. What I came away with was an incredibly impressive display of refined mental processing and hand usage from the redshirt senior. Below are just two plays that show Johnson using his hands and mind to win in addition to his strength and athleticism.
Near the end of the first quarter of Iowa’s game against the Iowa State Cyclones, Johnson puts his refined hand usage on full display while rushing the passer. The Cyclones are down 14 but they are driving, facing a 2nd and goal from the Hawkeyes 4-yard line. Johnson (#67) is lined up as the left defensive 3 technique on this play within Iowa’s Over Front. At the snap, Johnson quickly reads Iowa State right guard Patrick Scoggins (#53) going into a pass set:
Johnson converts speed to power from the start by using his hands with a well-timed strike to the Scroggins’ chest. Johnson’s punch is timed perfectly, and Scoggins is unable to establish his own contact because of the timing and positioning of Johnson’s strike:
Johnson recognizes the possible loss of leverage and transitions to a long arm technique without missing a beat on the rep. He keeps his right arm on Scroggins’ chest while continuing to drive with his legs, making his reach longer and keeping Scroggins away from his body for good:
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This play is a prime example of how quickly Johnson can process an offensive lineman’s plan of attack and counter with excellent hand usage immediately in the rep. His hand usage gained him control of Scroggins throughout the pass rush while his mental processing allowed him to transition from one pass rush move to another seamlessly.
This next play comes from late in the second quarter of the Hawkeyes’ game against the Michigan Wolverines. Johnson is once again aligned as the left defensive 3 technique for Iowa, lined up across from Michigan right guard Kyle Kalis (#67):
At the snap, Kalis sets his inside (left) foot first, establishing a base to the A Gap before going into his pass set. Johnson reads this and recognizes there will be room to work the B Gap that Kalis is slow to cover. Johnson takes one step toward the B Gap before moving back into Kalis’s chest in the direction of the A Gap. Because of the subtle angle Johnson took to engage Kalis, the guard must move toward the A Gap to stay in front of Johnson, thereby leaving the B Gap open:
Because of this quick mental processing, Johnson now has a lane to attack and apply pressure to quarterback Wilton Speight (#3), he just needs to get there. Johnson shows impressive hand technique by utilizing a push-pull pass rush move to get around Kalis. Because of Johnson’s early strike to establish his hands on Kalis’ chest, he is in perfect position to execute this move. The “push” phase is basically done, as Johnson has stacked Kalis with his arms extended in front of him, essentially controlling the OG by “pushing” him:
The “pull” phase, then, simply involves Johnson pulling Kalis back toward the line of scrimmage to shed the guard. Johnson executes it to perfection and shows good short area acceleration to bear down on Speight, forcing an incompletion:
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This move works because of Johnson’s ability to process information quickly and to use his hands to control opposing offensive linemen. Johnson attacking Kalis at an angle, thereby forcing him into the A Gap, shows his ability to pass rush with a plan in mind, as it left the B Gap wide open for him after beating Kalis with the push-pull move. Furthermore, the hand placement and strength to execute the push-pull move is also noteworthy for Johnson in the evaluation process.
I have plenty more film to watch on Iowa DT Jaleel Johnson. However, his mental processing and hand usage have me excited at the idea of putting together a full evaluation on him later in the draft process.