Yesterday I posted a seven-year old scouting report of former Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Kerry Meier, and today I’ve decided to post one from that same draft class in third-round guard Mike Johnson.
As I noted in yesterday’s post, this is just merely for fun to take a look back at some of the draft prospects over the years and at least my expectations of what they’d become in Atlanta.
I’ve only edited these scouting reports for grammar and syntax. For Johnson’s report, I adjusted the skill grades at the end to reflect the newer 10-point scale rather than the five-point scale I used back in 2010. I’ve also added a postscript to discuss Johnson’s eventual career.
Height: 6-5 Weight: 312
School: Alabama Class: Senior
40 Time: 5.37
Pros: Consistently shows excellent pop off the snap and is able to get position and push as a run blocker. Can get out to the second level quickly and get seal on linebacker. Shows ability to pull. Has good strength and is effective in pass protection mainly because of it. Plays with good base and is hard to bull rush. Shows some mean streak.
Cons: Has sloppy footwork. Struggles when left on an island against quicker defensive tackles as he doesn’t adjust well in space. Doesn’t always play with good balance and spends way too much time on the ground. Will overextend and doesn’t keep feet under him. Is a waist-bender. Not smooth or natural when asked to pull and block on the move, and can be slow out of the gates, causing him to miss assignments. Needs to do a better job locking on and finishing his blocks as a run blocker. Will miss on his cut blocks.
Overview: A three-year starter that got experience playing everywhere but center. But really found a home at left guard the last two seasons. Can be a dominant run blocker at times, but a bit one-dimensional as he has many flaws in pass protection. Started 41 career games with 26 coming at left guard, two at left tackle, three at right guard and 10 at right tackle. Started mainly at right tackle as a sophomore. He really struggled vs. Utah in last year’s bowl as a replacement for Andre Smith at left tackle.
NFL Forecast: Johnson fits very well at left guard for a team that wants a road-grading, smashmouth run blocker. He is a guy that clears running lanes and typically Alabama ran quite a bit behind him the past two years. He’s not a great puller, but is good enough to do so to some degree at the next level. The only real flaw in his game is that he’s exposed quite a bit as a pass blocker. In the Utah game a year ago, he was very slow into his stance and overmatched on the edge. He struggles with quickness when he’s working on the inside. Is best in confined space and particularly early in his career, should get plenty of help from the center. Which is why he projects better to the left side in the pros. But in terms of his run-blocking ability and potential he reminds me of Alan Faneca. However, he’s not as good a pass protector as Faneca was in his prime, despite them having similar builds. He can improve in pass protection, but I think he’ll give up quite a few sacks throughout his career. Faneca has given up his fair share in his career (averaged six the past six seasons). But like Faneca, Johnson can make up for that with his ability as a run blocker.
ATL Forecast: Johnson is the sort of road-grading run blocker that would fit nicely beside Sam Baker and offset his own flaws in that area. He’s not quite as mobile or athletic as the Falcons may want, but he passes muster enough in both regards to think that he can be as good as Blalock. His run blocking potential makes it so he could beat Blalock outright as a starter, although I’m sure Paul Boudreau would love to have one year of working with him before throwing him to the wolves. He would definitely be ready and able to start by 2011. But Johnson and Baker could form a very good duo for the Falcons in the future because both players excel in opposite areas, which causes some semblance of balance.
Value: Johnson is worth a late second-round pick for a team willing to take a chance on a fairly one-dimensional run blocker. He’s probably better value in the third round, but run blockers as good and consistent as him don’t come along very often.
Key: 1-pathetic, 2-poor, 3-weak, 4-below average, 5-average, 6-above average, 7-good, 8-very good, 9-excellent, 10-elite
Pass Blocking: 4.0
Run Blocking: 9.0
Mean Streak: 6.0
Postscript: Looking Back Seven Years Later…
Clearly, I was very high on Johnson’s potential to beef up the Falcons ground attack. At the time of writing this back in 2010, it was clear to me that with Tyson Clabo, Harvey Dahl and Justin Blalock all prepared to hit free agency after the season, not all three starters would not be back. At that time, I felt that Blalock was the most expendable given that his play up to that point had not been on the same level as Clabo or Dahl.
With the selection of Johnson, who shined as a left guard at Alabama, it seemed inevitable that Blalock would be the one that walked at the end of the season. However that expectation proved to be off the mark.
Like Meier, Johnson’s career prospects were severely limited by his inability to stay healthy. After a quiet first training camp with the Falcons, Johnson seemed poised to replace Harvey Dahl entering 2011 after the latter departed in free agency. But a concussion suffered early in camp caused Johnson to miss time and Garrett Reynolds wound up solidifying his grip on the vacated right guard position.
Johnson then went on injured reserve in October, having suffered an injury while blocking on a kickoff return against the Detroit Lions. Unfortunately that same game marked the final start of Reynolds at right guard, who had been suffering from a bum ankle and was abused by Ndamukong Suh numerous times. Joe Hawley wound up filling in at right guard for the rest of the season, costing Johnson his best opportunity to win the starting gig.
This would become a repeating pattern throughout the remainder of Johnson’s career, where seemingly every time he had a legitimate chance to win a starting spot, he’d get hurt, costing him that opportunity.
Johnson’s next real chance came in 2013 after the team cut Tyson Clabo and created a vacancy at right tackle. Johnson wound taking the early lead over Lamar Holmes that summer, but had a nasty ankle injury two weeks into camp that put him on IR for the remainder of the year.
Johnson got one more chance with the Falcons in 2014, but once again suffered a foot injury during a preseason game that landed him on injured reserve. He ultimately decided to call it quits thereafter.
Part of me still wants to believe that my relatively high assessment of Johnson’s potential wasn’t off the mark, rather he simply just had a run of rotten luck that sidetracked his ability to live up to it. However looking back, I can clearly see I was way too optimistic about Johnson’s ability.
The comparisons to Faneca seem ridiculous now, considering the latter is a possible Hall of Famer. But Johnson was that adept a run blocker during his collegiate days to think that he could have become a very effective mauler at the next level.
I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say Johnson’s “failure” as a pro didn’t drastically affect my outlook on Alabama draft prospects in general. While he isn’t alone in that regard, seeing Johnson struggle to impact at the next level after being a dominant player throughout his college career made me question a lot of things about whether or not the “NFL pipeline” that starts in Tuscaloosa is all that it’s cracked up to be.
Johnson wound up playing 18 games in his Falcons career, drawing a single start as a sixth offensive linemen in 2012. That season marked the only one in which he stayed healthy, logging time both on offense and special teams as an extra blocker when the Falcons wanted to throw out their “jumbo” sets. Johnson’s lone memorable highlight moment came when he caught a goal-line touchdown pass that season against the Saints.
All that we can do is think of what could have been had Johnson managed to stay healthy. In retrospect he probably would not have been a player anywhere close to Faneca’s level, but I still maintain he probably would’ve been a better starter than either Garrett Reynolds, Peter Konz or Lamar Holmes wound up becoming.