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Zion Johnson’s versatility should make him a viable option for the Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers need help along the offensive line, and Zion Johnson could be an answer to many of their woes in this area.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Boston College Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are doing work this offseason looking at prospective players to help improve their offensive line in 2022, and beyond. After the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, the Steelers have met with multiple offensive linemen who could fit the bill at several positions along the offensive front.

One of those prospects, who could be in play for the team at pick No. 20, is Boston College lineman Zion Johnson. The Steelers met with Johnson at both the Senior Bowl in Mobile, and at the Combine last week. Clearly there is interest in Johnson, but is he worth the Round 1 grade?

After already looking at several quarterbacks, I decided to focus my next prospect breakdowns on the offensive line. I started with Tyler Linderbaum of Iowa, and now I’m moving onto Johnson.

Don’t listen to me, or anyone else, form your own opinion on Johnson. I plan on doing this for other prospects as the draft approaches. If there is a specific player you’d like to see covered, simply let me know and I’ll be glad to put it together!

Let us know your thoughts on Johnson in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the new league year, NFL Free Agency and the 2022 NFL Draft.

Draft Profiles

The Draft Network

Zion Johnson transferred to Boston College after playing at Davidson. It didn’t take long for Johnson to become a starter on a talented Eagles offensive line and he proceeded to start for three seasons. Two of those seasons came at left guard with one at left tackle. I believe his natural position is guard where his aggressive mentality enables him to handle the faster action that comes with playing on the interior. Johnson doesn’t have the ideal length or wide frame to play tackle in the NFL, although he can handle spot duty in a pinch. Johnson is a smart and physical blocker with consistent technique. He plays within himself and is rarely caught with poor posture or poor control of his frame. I believe he is best in pass protection but he’s still an above average run blocker that is comfortable operating in space. Johnson has plug-and-play potential at guard in the NFL and given how consistent his technique is, I would keep him on the left side. He has the makeup of an above average starter that can lock down a starting role at least through a second contract.

Ideal Role: Starting guard

Scheme Fit: Zone run scheme

NFL Draft Buzz

  • A smooth athlete with terrific mobility and footwork, staying light on his feet. Has the lateral range, natural shuffle movements, and lower body quickness to mirror speed rushers.
  • Boston loved to pull him and have him kick out the play side defensive end and he specialized at it in 2019.
  • Very good run blocker with great instincts
  • Willing to attack and punches multiple times to finish the play. Quick to pick up edge blitz and shows no panic, easily adjusting angles and resetting his feet. Can recover and reset his anchor. Rarely late off the snap.
  • Plays with appropriate wide base and intelligence, instincts, and agility to seal the edge. Aggressive extending with power to punch and looks comfortable in space.
  • Very versatile - e has experience at guard and tackle.
  • Has the agility, technique, and size to contribute early in his professional career. Quick, active hands to latch on to defenders.
  • Made Bruce Feldman’s Freaks list — “The 6-3, 310-pounder vertical jumped 34.5 inches in offseason testing to go with an 8-8 broad jump and a 4.7 shuttle time and 32 reps on the bench.”
  • Has managed to stay injury-free throughout his entire career
  • At the combine Johnson (6-2, 314) managed an impressive 32 reps on the bench and put up a 32 in the vertical jump
  • Flashes the ability to move his man with his hands but is not yet consistent in this area.
  • Needs to work on his technique in pass protection, using more consistent leverage and continuing to move his feet.
  • Shouldn’t really be looked on as tackle in the NFL since his height (6-3) works against him
  • Doesn’t have a massive frame build to dominate - more of a finesse blocker
  • Loses leverage battles and plays with high pad level. Can be late off the snap.

Johnson is a high-floor mid-level ceiling kind of a prospect who has a great skill set especially as a run blocker - where we score him highly. He is slightly less accomplished as a pass blocker but still has skills. Our only concern is that he may never come to dominate in the NFL to the same level he has done at the college game because of his lack of size and power.

We have a second-round grade placed on Johnson that could change if he can demonstrate strength at the combine. He could go as high as the first day of the 2022 NFL Draft if a zone-heavy running team were to fall in love with his particular set of skills.

Pro Football Network

  • Position: Guard
  • School: Boston College
  • Current Year: Super Senior
  • Height: 6’2 3/4″
  • Weight: 314 pounds
  • Wingspan: 82 7/8″
  • Arm: 33 7/8″
  • Hand: 10 7/8″

Zion Johnson Scouting Report

Johnson came into the college football season as one of the top-ranked interior offensive linemen in the 2022 NFL Draft class. With exceptional performances this year, he elevated his stock even further. He has earned first-round consideration from multiple analysts. Furthermore, he has appeared in Round 1 of several mock drafts, including the January edition of my 4-Round NFL Mock Draft here at Pro Football Network.

On the PFN consensus big board, the Boston College guard is the second-ranked interior offensive linemen. So, what exactly does Johnson’s scouting report reveal about the skill set that he brings to the next level?

At 6’3″ and 316 pounds, Johnson has an ideal frame for the guard position. A stout offensive lineman, he uses his size as an advantage. In the trenches where the low man wins, the Boston College guard has a natural head start on his opposition. As a result, he plays with a low pad level. With 34-inch arms, Johnson also has a length advantage that allows him to keep opponents at bay.

Johnson exhibits exceptional play strength. He routinely wins the battle at the line of scrimmage, often overwhelming his opponent. There are plenty of examples of him overpowering the defensive linemen he is engaged with, finishing them into the dirt.


2022 NFL Draft Scouting Report: Boston College Offensive Lineman Zion Johnson

Best Traits

Hands – Hand usage is a key component to having a fruitful career on the offensive line. Zion Johnson shows astounding hand strength and uses it to regularly gain leverage on opposing linemen. His ability to latch onto defenders and steer them in any way of his choosing is unparalleled in this draft class. You cannot teach the natural grip strength that he possesses, as this helps him immensely against players that are bigger than he is.

Technique – Johnson not only has mythical strength in his hands, he’s also very polished when it comes to technique. He uses sound fundamentals and couples it with nearly flawless footwork. Johnson anchors himself into the ground very well; I liken it to a tree with its roots sunk deep into the Earth. It is more or less impossible to move Johnson off his spot when he establishes his base. He exhibits elite traits as a mauler in the run game, too. Johnson regularly keeps his legs churning and does well to get under the pads of the opposition by using his god-given 82 7/8” wingspan.

Athleticism – For a player that received minimal national attention prior to his final season in college, Johnson profiles as a plus athlete which is rare for a player of his size. He has shown the ability to be a menacing pull blocker, using his nimble feet to get going and pairing it with the aforementioned strength to embarrass defenders. Virtually every big play that Boston College made can be credited to Johnson getting to the second level quickly after creating a crater in the line of scrimmage.

Motor – Zion Johnson proved in Mobile that the motor he presented on tape was authentic. He was typically the hardest worker in each rep taken at the Senior Bowl, never wasting a single play and rarely looking overmatched. As is apparent from his path to the 2022 NFL Draft, Johnson has a yearning to learn and finds ways to maximize his talent to the fullest degree. There may be bigger, there may be stronger, there may be faster… but I promise you there is no one that works harder than this kid. His drive has solidified him as a favorite of scouts and fans alike.

Potential – Because of the fact that Johnson has improved each year he has played football, many scouts believe that the sky is the limit in regards to his NFL career. You can’t put a value on someone that has a constant obsession to become the best version of himself each and every day. There is no reason to believe that Johnson has peaked, giving him All-Pro potential as an interior lineman in the league. Don’t be surprised to see Johnson sneak into the backend of the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft. He has earned it.

Needs Improvement

Inexperience – To be frank, there are not a lot of holes in Johnson’s game. I highlighted his potential but I will be fair and address the other side of that coin. While it is promising how much Zion Johnson has improved, he is still quite young in football years. There are instances on tape where you can tell he is still getting used to the body he grew into. With the work ethic he demonstrated in front of scouts at the Senior Bowl, it’s safe to assume this section becomes a moot point sooner rather than later.

Instincts – His inexperience shows up in another part of his game: play recognition. He does well as a power run blocker but will need to show a better understanding of zone concepts to reach his full potential as a complete player. There are times where he is stuck in no man’s land looking for a body to block. This doesn’t happen often but when it does in pass protection, it really leaves the quarterback out to dry even if the play doesn’t result in a sack.

Balance – Again, I am being nit-picky because I would say he displays elite balance on roughly 95% of his snaps. The one constant variable in each of his “bad plays” though, is the inability to drop his anchor and establish a firm base. He is guilty of lunging at defenders, making him susceptible to getting knocked off his spot and leaving a free shot at the quarterback and/or running back out of the backfield. Considering how sparingly this occurred, you hope it is more of an outlier than anything.

Final Thoughts

Zion Johnson is one of the easiest players to root for in the 2022 NFL Draft. He has an underdog story that anyone can relate to, constantly being overlooked and slept on after arriving late to the sport. I bank on him continuing his trajectory and becoming an All-Pro at guard or center. He is locked in as a late first round value on my board and is behind only Tyler Linderbaum in my interior offensive line rankings. Don’t be surprised to hear Johnson’s name called early in the the draft, potentially much earlier than anyone expects.

Breakdowns / Highlights

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