A.J. Johnson | 6'2, 240 pounds | Outside linebacker | Tennessee | Junior
2012 stats: 138 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss
They call him "The Beast."
Tennessee junior linebacker A.J. Johnson lives up the name. He's a well-built linebacker who piled up ridiculous tackle totals as a sophomore in Knoxville, Tenn. His 21-tackle game against Mississippi State is the one that stands out to people most.
Johnson also contributed on offense as a goal line running back, rushing for six touchdowns last season. His aggressive mentality stands out on the field
What he does well
Johnson's body puts him on the NFL radar right away. He has an NFL-ready frame with the size and length to play the position immediately. He's also a strong player that knows how to use his hands to get off blocks and get into the backfield. Johnson play with a decent base and has a bit of short area quickness to penetrate into the backfield.
While defensive production can be misleading, Johnson did put up an impressive 138-tackle season as a sophomore, including 8.5 tackles for loss. Some of those tackles came at the end of plays when his services weren't necessarily needed to bring the ball carrier down, but Johnson's motor is noteworthy.
What he needs to improve on
Too often, Johnson would cross the face of the running back and allow big cut-back lanes. He doesn't seem to trust what he sees and ends up out of position often as a result. The "Beast" may be an appropriate nickname due to Johnson's size and tenacity, but his athleticism isn't quite on a beast level. Johnson is not a fluid enough athlete, particularly in the open field and in coverage. Part of that may be due to the fact that he plays the game too high and is late to react and turn his hips to attack angles in the running game.
Johnson may not improve on his impressive statistics in his junior season, but he has a chance to improve his game in a few of the areas mentioned above. While he may never become the athlete he would need to be to play outside linebacker or 4-3 inside linebacker in the NFL, he has the frame and mentality to stick as a thumper in a 3-4 defense. If he manages to play a bit smarter in 2013, and Tennessee's defense as a whole improves, he could be a top 50 pick.