|Camden, NJ – 6'4", 230|
|Scout||3*, NR overall
|Rivals||4*, NR overall
#20 DE, #8 NJ
|ESPN||4*, #109 overall
#15 DE, #4 NJ
|24/7||4*, #239 overall
#18 WDE, #6 NJ
|Other Suitors||PSU, UO, ND, OSU, Bama|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post from Ace.|
|Notes||Twitter. Son of former Badger Ronald Johnson. Teammate of Brad Hawkins.|
Our grueling Signing Day podcast finished with a Lightning Round(!). 247's Steve Lorenz was the victim. Our last question was "recruit Michigan fans have forgotten about." Lorenz said "Ron Johnson… that's an easy one." And so it is. After an early commit and little subsequent drama—a Kentucky visit is not much drama—Johnson is just another mid-four-star Jersey guy to a lot of folks, including your author. But he's an excellent prospect—albeit a divisive one.
I am similarly divided. Many of the things that are written about him are very encouraging, but the Semper Fi game at which Khaleke Hudson became a fave-rave also featured Johnson. He mostly got hung up on blocking. Impactful he was not. While you never want to read too much into a half-game of snaps in an All-Star situation, it is data. That data wasn't great.
Oddly, the rest of the data from that game was. 247 paid it the most attention, and was consistently wowed by his performance in practices. On day two they named him the "Alpha Dog":
…easily the most dominating player on the second day of practice. The four-star Michigan commitment could not be blocked at the line of scrimmage, firing off the ball and using his raw strength to explode on contact. At 6-foot-4, 230-pounds, Johnson is lean, but on Thursday he showed the upper body strength is already there to throw blockers to the wayside. …. Coaches were raving about his performance on Day two, and rightfully so.
The day before he narrowly missed the same designation because he "displayed three great qualities of a productive pass rusher"—tenacity, violent hands, and flying to the football. The day after he narrowly missed the same designation because he was "tenacious" and had "speed to get to the football that cannot be coached." The practices hold more weight than the actual game when it comes to rankings and 247 bumped him into their top X list afterwards.
Other reports are mixed. One thing everyone seems to agree on is Johnson’s athleticism, which is Grade A.
Rivals: “pure edge rusher with great explosiveness off the line of scrimmage.”
- 247: “physically gifted defensive end with great explosiveness and power.”
- ESPN: “Demonstrates excellent raw strength … brings some excellent physical tools.”
- Scout: “Johnson has an excellent motor and also plenty of athleticism.
That’s everyone, then. Despite this there is a big spread in opinion on Johnson running from fringe top 100 guy to generic three star. Most of the disagreement appears to be about how heavily to weight his upside versus where he is right now, or at least where he’s been for much of high high school career.
Despite being the most optimistic service, ESPN offers up a lot of what skeptics are seeing. This is another report where their ranking doesn’t entirely match up with the contents. This time the scouting report is a little lukewarm for a prospect on the fringe of their top 100:
Needs to watch pad level, but displays ability to stay low and has the strength and length to set the edge when he keeps pads down. … Lateral agility is adequate and displays inconsistent recognition skills. … nice upside [as pass rusher] with length and ability to quickly get off the ball. …doesn't have great bend, but displays ability to work tight path. … Can rely on size and strength some and needs to be more consistent with technique.
That sounds more like a four star outside their top 300, but it’s possible his ranking got bumped at some point without an update to the report. Rivals originally had Johnson at the tail end of their top 100 before a big drop just preceding his senior year, one that was based on size concerns:
"…if the offensive tackle can get his hands on Johnson, the New Jersey native has a hard time recovering. Size and strength are a bit of a concern as a defensive end, but his athleticism can't be denied.”
A contemporary evaluation compared Johnson to PSU commit and composite top 50 player Shane Simmons, justifying Rivals drops for both since they are undersized players with little recourse if an opposing OL can match their outside rush.
Meanwhile, the “mixed” comes into play heavily in Scout’s assessment, which directly contradicts ESPN’s in a couple places and itself once:
Johnson has an excellent motor and also plenty of athleticism. He gets up the field in a hurry, but also uses technique, including a nice swim move. He stays low at the snap and can dip his shoulder to get around the edge… He needs to work a bit on his change of direction, which is good for a kid his size.
“Hand quickness,” an item ESPN says he needs to work on, is a strength. Change of direction, which is good, is bad. Despite saying he’s good at things ESPN thinks he’s not good at, Scout ranks him 32 slots lower at DE than the next most skeptical service. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
That is literally the only text content from Scout that, you know, scouts Johnson. There are a couple of their horrible talking-heads-standing-outside-in-the-wind recaps elsewhere because someone high up at Scout thinks videos that should absolutely not be videos are the company’s salvation… I am digressing.
Brian Dohn did offer up a highlights-plus-talking item when he committed, praising his ability to pursue—always a backhanded compliment—and saying he needs to do better at disengaging from blockers and is liable to go blow a guy up even if that guy doesn’t have the ball. The latter echoes one of the criticisms ESPN had for him, and is in direct contrast to recently-covered Josh Uche. That’s an important flaw, albeit a fixable one.
His video also has a number of those high school tackles on which the D-I prospect hurls himself wildly at a future accountant. The accountant goes backwards five yards, the recruit flexes, and coaches wince. Johnson’s not exactly refined.
If you’re noticing that a lot of reports say that he’s crazy strong and a lot of reports say he’s too small… yeah. Here’s a canonical one:
While he does not have developed technique, he is incredibly strong and uses his hands violently. At Michigan, expect Johnson to be coached up for a year or two while he adds size to his frame, which appears like it could easily hold 30 or 40 more pounds.
Those would seem to be traits in direct opposition to each other. An attempt to interpret this: “crazy strong” reports are more about Johnson impacting OL violently with that explosion and knocking them off balance. “Needs to get bigger” reports are more about what happens when the OL can cope and gets locked on. Clint Brewster has some more detail:
…gets off blocks with an aggressive swim move and has the strength to shrug them off as well. He has the core-strength and ability to beat offensive tackles inside to make plays in the running game or the quickness and speed to beat them outside. He works hard to stand his ground against the run and has power in his upper body to punch and dispatch blockers.
That eval is directly contradicted by various other reports, FWIW. I’m just trying to resolve the distinction.
A lot of WDE types will garner similar evaluations. Johnson is a common prospect: athletic LB/DE type who’s going to eat like The Rock for a couple years and end up a much different player. Sometimes that’s an eh guy who loses his quick-twitch and ends up being a backup SDE or something. Sometimes it’s the high school prospect plus 40 pounds of anger. Roll them dice. Johnson is starting with a +1 or +2 modifier to your roll.
Etc.: Dang hard to Google.
Why Frank Clark? Clark was an explosive, high-impact WDE who needed to add a bunch of weight and technique before he became effective. Early in his career Clark was horrible at diagnosing zone read and would often vacate his rush lane; late he was a strapping 270-pound athletic player whose production outstripped his stats.
Johnson isn’t as far away from playing weight as Clark—who was 210 coming out of high school—and has correspondingly higher rankings. He’s also got a couple inches on Clark, so hitting that 270 or even 280 that Clark did is within reach. The upsides are similar.
Johnson is also similar to Lawrence Marshall as a recruit, but we haven’t seen how Marshall’s game translates to college. That could also be Johnson’s fate. He’s not a slam dunk by any means.
Guru Reliability: Moderate. Healthy, All Star appearance, but big split. More or less agree on what kind of player Johnson is and radically disagree on how valuable that is.
Variance: High. Low technique, high athleticism DE with a big ceiling and a long way to go.
Ceiling: High. See Clark, Frank.
General Excitement Level: Moderate-plus. Boom or bust guy. Semper Fi performance leans towards “boom.”
Projection: Redshirt should be coming with Michigan’s depth on the DL and Johnson’s rawness. He will probably have to cool his heels a bit longer if Winovich sticks and Marshall comes through. This is completely fine. Unless he is tracking way ahead of schedule 2018 is the first you’ll hear from him.
In 2018 and beyond he could be anything from a ghost to Clark 2.0. Your guess will suffice.