On tape, Alabama's Nico Johnson is one of this year's stoutest run defenders. The 6-2, 249 pound sledge hammer seems to enjoy taking on and shedding blocks and is an aggressive, drag-down tackler. He's also a player who scouts expect to work out well, though this athleticism doesn't always translate onto the field in coverage. - Rob Rang, NFLDraftScout.com
Johnson hasn't proven himself to be a consistent pass rusher or turnover machine during his time at Alabama but his size, athleticism and physicality in the running game makes him one of the more intriguing linebackers of the 2013 draft class.
He signed with the Tide as an incredibly highly regarded prep prospect, choosing Alabama over the likes of LSU and virtually every other SEC team. Even the USC Trojans ventured into Alabama to try to land the 2009 High School Butkus Award finalist.
It didn't take long for Johnson to demontrate why he was so highly rated, as he played in 12 games for the Tide as a freshman, starting three times at "will" linebacker in the team's 3-4 scheme. Over the course of his career, Johnson would switch between this role and "middle" linebacker, starting when the team needed an extra thumper in the running game.
Johnson is a perfect example of Alabama's depth and Nick Saban's genius in placing his players in position to succeed. He started "just" 18 of his 51 career games for the Tide, with the most time running with the first unit coming during his sophomore season (2010) and leaves having posted 162 tackles over his career. As a point of reference, Toledo's Dan Molls, himself a potential 2013 draft pick, recorded 166 tackles just this season.
Johnson isn't likely to hear his name called earlier than Day Three. He's not likely to earn a spot in a future Pro Bowl. Teams needing help defending the run, however, will be certain to scout him closely. Big and physical enough to handle the strongside role in the 4-3, as well as shedding blockers as an inside linebacker in the 3-4, he just might this year's most underrated "specialist" of the linebacker pool.
Physically imposing defender with good overall musculature and weight distribution. Has a thick lower body which aids in his anchoring against blockers. Seems to enjoy the physical nature of the game, aggressively taking on and shedding blockers at the point of attack. Appears most comfortable inside, showing the ability to make subtle side-steps to slip into gaps and meet backs at the line. Forceful hitter whose core strength is obvious as he grabs, twists and pulls ball-carriers to the ground. Gives a strong jolt to potential pass-catchers to knock them off of their routes and shows some initial flexibility and quickness to run with them. Hasn't missed a game over his career due to injury.
Isn't the intimidating striker that his physicality might lead you to believe. Doesn't often leave his feet and explode through his hips as a hitter to knock ball-carriers to the ground. Instead, he latches on and 'rassles them in a manner that may not appear as aesthetically pleasing but gets the job done, nonetheless... Doesn't play as fast as might appear in workouts. Limited awareness as a pass defender. Does not possess ideal speed or fluidity to handle coverage responsibilities for long... Relies on watching the quarterback's eyes to gain an edge. Wasn't asked to rush the passer often while at Alabama and shows limited technique in this role. Relies mostly on a simple bull-rush, which is marginally effective.
Compares To: Bart Scott, ILB, New York Jets