Penn State's Austin Johnson mum on draft possibility
STAFF WRITER Austin Johnson knows that everyone who follows Penn State is wondering whether the team's TaxSlayer Bowl matchup against Georgia will be his last game wearing the Nittany Lions' blue and white before he decides to enter the 2016 NFL draft.
Austin Johnson knows that everyone who follows Penn State is wondering whether the team's TaxSlayer Bowl matchup against Georgia will be his last game wearing the Nittany Lions' blue and white before he decides to enter the 2016 NFL draft.
But he's not saying. After the Nittany Lions completed their first practice in Fernandina Beach, Fla., on Tuesday, Johnson did not provide any clarity on his situation.
"I have not" made a decision, the redshirt junior defensive tackle and former St. Augustine Prep star told reporters. "So as of right now, I'm staying. So that's it."
Later, Johnson confirmed that he had received his draft evaluation from the NFL's college advisory committee but would not reveal the round where the panel felt he is likely to be drafted. A meeting to discuss the report included his mother, head coach James Franklin and defensive line coach Sean Spencer.
"We talked about it and we're still weighing our decision," he said, adding that "nothing really stood out to me, nothing crazy" in the report.
"Of course, I want to go in the highest round I can, or I think I can. But it's not like I'm actually looking at something right now. I'm just focused on Georgia, focused on trying to win against a really good team that has a really good offensive line, running back and skill guys. So (I'm) just really trying to focus on that right now."
According to NFL Draft Scout on CBSSports.com, the 6-foot-4, 323-pound Johnson is rated as the No. 7 defensive tackle and projected to be a high second-round pick. The deadline for declaring for the NFL draft is Jan. 18.
Playing on the same defensive line as consensus All-American end Carl Nassib and highly touted tackle Anthony Zettel, the powerful and athletic Johnson provided valuable help by routinely taking on double teams and still being effective. He was third on the team in tackles with 70, second in tackles for loss with 13 and tied for second in sacks with 5.5.
"He's just been a consistent monster really," said linebacker Brandon Bell, a long-time friend of Johnson's given their South Jersey roots. "Every Saturday, he's out there throwing these other 300-pound guys around for the most part and making plays."
Johnson said the departure of Nassib and Zettel, both seniors, "has kind of like a little bit of a role in my decision" given that opposing offenses will be able to focus more on Johnson if he were to return in 2016. But he said the constant challenge to improve is a motivating factor.
"There's so many things you can get better at," he said. "There's no point you reach in football that you can't get better at something. There's always room for improvement – more TFL's, more sacks, more of everything, really."
As for right now, however, Johnson will try to cap off a successful season with the Nittany Lions defense. He and the unit want to take the words of defensive coordinator Bob Shoop to heart.
"He said that this season, the guys that are on the team will be remembered by this last game," he said. "That's what he's been preaching, what he's been saying. He's right, and everybody is buying in. So it's looking pretty good for us right now."
But will this last game be Johnson's last game for Penn State? Only he knows.