Some of us play golf. It can be relaxing or maddening, sometimes both at the same time. If you are one of those people who feel that way you could take up another sport. I don’t know the real reason that Zion Johnson gave up golf for another sport but he did. Johnson was on the golf team from 8th grade until his junior year of high school. I am guessing that golf was so utterly infuriating to him that he decided to run people over while blocking for his running back.
Johnson started playing football during his senior year of high school. As a result he was a zero star recruit. He had no D-1 college offers for scholarships. He ended up playing at Davidson for the first two years in college. He played in 22 games making 19 starts for a team that ran the a triple option offense.
Johnson transferred to Boston College in 2019 playing in all 13 games that season making 7 starts at left guard. He was twice named offensive lineman of the week in the ACC that year including his first start of his BC career at NC State.
He was given All-ACC academic honors all three years while at BC and was elected captain by his teammates in 2020 when he played 783 of 785 offensive snaps. Rather than enter the Draft in 2021 he stayed in school using the NCAA extra year of eligibility to hone his skills. Johnson was one of just three Boston College student-athletes to earn the prestigious 2021 Weaver-James-Corrigan Postgraduate Scholarship Award from the ACC. Those honored have performed with distinction in both the classroom and their respective sport, while demonstrating exemplary conduct in the community.
Johnson played at left guard in 2019 then at left tackle in 2020. He rotated as needed between both tackle and guard in 2021. He was a graduate student in 2021 working towards his masters degree in computer science with an emphasis in cybersecurity.
In this game against Clemson Johnson is working against a 6’ 4” 295 lbs defensive tackle.
Johnson is the left guard #77. He moves his man from the hole then pushes him 10 feet from where he began. Johnson has real power in his lower half. He uses nice choppy steps to slowly overpower his man. Johnson also has a strong anchor to hold back some of the behemoths in the NFL in pass protection. In this play the RB doesn’t see the hole form even though it’s right where it’s supposed to be. If he had cut off the backside of Johnson right away he had a chance, but instead he is late then gets bottled up.
This next play has Johnson playing at left tackle which shows his versatility as he can play anywhere on the offensive line. Admittedly left tackle is kind of a stretch for Johnson to play. He is under 6’ 3” with good length but not quite enough to play as a left tackle in the NFL.
In pass protection here Johnson keeps a nice wide base while keeping his man in front of him. He is ready for an attempt to run the edge or the bull rush. Either way he has his man stymied. He never makes it near the QB. He keeps his arms extended, never letting his opponent near his chest. His punch is effective. It stops a rush cold then keeps his man at arm’s length. Johnson has a thick, athletic build with little excess weight. His lower half is powerful. Johnson understands how to unlock his hips to create some massive force to clear the lane in the run game. His hands are huge (10 7/8”) with great grip strength.
Here again in the run game as a left tackle Johnson is able to get squared up to his man keeping him from ever getting near the ball carrier. Johnson knows he doesn’t have to pancake his man every play to be effective. He just needs to stay between himself and his man with the ball behind him. In this game Johnson was voted ACC lineman of the week as the Eagles rolled up 234 yards rushing in the win.
At the Senior Bowl it was written that Johnson was as impressive in interviews as he was during blocking drills. If you watch him in interviews at BC you will know why. He is a well-spoken young man. You can tell right away he is knowledgeable and passionate in what he is talking about. You can tell he believes what he is saying.
I don’t know if it was on purpose, but Johnson was matched up with some powerful players during one on one drills by Jets coaches. In this first drill he is lined up against Otito Ogbonnia who is a 6’ 4” 320 monster from UCLA with great power then Haskell Garrett, a 6’ 2” 299 lbs rusher, with great quickness for a man his size.
You can see the nice wide base with the great anchor Johnson has against Ogbonnia. Johnson is just as proficient in keeping Garrett squared up with a great anchor against him as well.
To be fair these one on one drills at the Senior Bowl are much harder on the offensive blockers than the defensive players. During game play linemen often get help from their neighbors, but realize this is a test to see how the players do on their own. Realistically there is usually limited space to move around in the trenches. Some of these players during drill go way too far around the player they are going against. In a game situation they would never have that kind of room to roam around. Other players would be in the way.
In this second battle Johnson again gets the best of Ogbonnia, stalemating him the entire time and allowing him very little penetration. This is an impressive anchor, but Johnson also stands Ogbonnia up a little, taking away any leverage by getting lower than him.
This next clip has Johnson going against Travis Jones who was a star at the Senior Bowl if you listen to reports. He regularly beat opponents all week, but Jones (6’ 4 3/8” 326 lbs) had trouble with Johnson.
Johnson impressed the Jets when he would come to practice early then stay late to work on playing the center position. Johnson had never played at center, but his willingness to try was a breath of fresh air to the Jets. Here he again is going up against Jones, but this time he is over the guard which makes this a near impossible reach block.
This is part of what I mentioned earlier as Jones ends up over where the end would be rushing from. In game situations there would be a guard and tackle in the way so Jones couldn’t stray that far from his rush lane. If he was doing some type of stunt then Jones would be picked up by another lineman.
This next clip is of Johnson against Ogbonnia again but this time playing the center position. The snap is perfect (of course the QB drops it) with Johnson getting a nice punch in to start the battle. Playing center is a whole new experience for Johnson. It’s much more difficult a transition than most would realize. Your first obligation is the snap which always has to be perfect. That’s a skill mastered usually over years not days.
Your hands are busy with the ball as a center while as a guard or tackle your hands are free to do what you wish at the snap. You have to have very quick hands as a center, and you must also be very coordinated in your movements. Defenders are off at the snap while you as a center are finishing the snap so you are late getting your hands back in play. Centers also are graded on their “snap to step” quickness which is necessary for a reach block like Johnson struggled with earlier.
This last clip is of the struggle against Travis Jones again. This was a series of hard fought battles of brute strength and technique. It sort of reminiscent of the epic battles Nick Mangold would have against Vince Wilfork who weighed 325 lbs.
Again working out of the center position Johnson wages war with Jones. You can see both players trying to gain leverage, power against power. The winner is in the eye of the beholder. Jones eventually makes it by, but it took him 4 1⁄2 to 5 seconds to do so.
Zion Johnson was a player I looked at early on for the Jets as a guard and now guard/center prospect. He had a nice Senior Bowl and he will be impressive to anyone who talks to him. He is a very special young man with a high character and leadership abilities.
These are the types of player the Jets need if they expect to turn things around any time soon Whereas I had Johnson penciled in at pick #35 or 38, I now believe he doesn’t make it out of the 1st round. I know he will not make it by Detroit at #32 or 34. They will slide him in to Vaitai’s left guard spot next to Frank Ragnow.
That’s what I think.
What do you think?