Heading into 2017, the Minnesota Vikings brought in plenty of competition for Tom Johnson at defensive tackle.
Knowing that former first-round pick Sharrif Floyd was unlikely to suit up this season, the Vikings signed former Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Datone Jones and drafted Iowa standout Jaleel Johnson in the fourth round.
By the end of camp, it was clear that Johnson didn’t need the help, finishing the season just short of 700 total snaps.
He picked up three stuffed runs and 30 tackles on 203 run snaps and managed a solid 75.6 (out of 100) run grade by Pro Football Focus. Johnson started 15 of 16 games, the most of his career by far.
“It’s just that you guys are looking,” Johnson said, smiling. “That’s what it is. I said at the beginning of the year when the question came, I said if you watch film, you’ll see that I’ve always been a solid run player, I haven’t had opportunities and the volume of plays to be evaluated by [media]. That’s stuff people in the league already know. I guess it’s just time for you guys to pay a little more attention to that and actually see it.”
Johnson was signed by the Vikings in 2014 to be a situational pass rusher. In his first year, the veteran D-lineman had 6.5 sacks. That number has gone down, but he was still credited with 23.0 QB pressures by Football Outsiders.
The ever-confident DT said there was nothing magical about his solid play against the run, it was simply due to an increase in opportunity.
“You have to be aggressive and be sound,” Johnson said. “Three-technique is usually playing with a little more space than a nose [tackle], not as much space as the end, so you have to be quick enough to attack the outside shoulder of the guards when they’re going to run plays toward you and also be stout enough to take on double teams…quickness is my advantage so it’s closing on guards fast enough to get them off their feet or before they can get their foot down and be downhill…with our scheme, it’s a one-gap scheme, so if you’re attacking your responsibility, you make the plays that come your way.”
The Vikings finished the season ranking fifth in rushing yards per attempt against and second in total rushing yards allowed.
Vikings 2014 seventh-round pick Shamar Stephen mixed in with Johnson in run-specific situations, playing 193 run snaps.