Boston College guard Zion Johnson turned his back on the NFL Draft last season to return to the Eagles for one final season. It’s a decision that’s paid dividends, with Johnson set to continue the program’s rich tradition of producing offensive line talent for the NFL. Johnson’s elevated his stock significantly this season, and his scouting report reveals why he is considered one of the top interior offensive linemen in the 2022 NFL Draft class.
Zion Johnson NFL Draft Profile
- 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.
A strong and athletic run blocker, a technical pass protector
Also, his strength is evidenced by the very few examples of him ceding ground and being pushed back to the quarterback. Johnson possesses a solid anchor while being forceful on the attack.
With two years of experience in a triple-option offense and one in Steve Addazio’s power run scheme, it should come as no surprise that Johnson does his best work in the run game. The Boston College guard can play both gap and zone schemes, presenting a valuable level of versatility.
Johnson’s athletic ability helps ensure success in the run game. He has been used as a pulling guard and owns the speed to get out to the second level. In addition to the physical tools to succeed as a puller, the Boston College guard showcases an excellent understanding of lanes and angles.
While he’s always been exceptional as a run blocker, Johnson continued to develop as a pass protector this season. As mentioned above, his strength helps in this regard. However, he developed as a technician this fall. His smooth movements allow him to get into his pass set quickly. Johnson’s also showcased excellent timing and placement of his hands. Importantly, he’s demonstrated the ability to routinely pick up stunts and twists.
Areas for improvement
Johnson’s continued development through this season has been impressive. Several of the areas for improvement that I had noted during his summer scouting report have been addressed during this season. As a result, there aren’t many flaws to his game at this point. Nevertheless, no prospect enters the NFL Draft as a perfect proposition.
Although he showcases fundamentally sound technique, Johnson needs to be conscious of keeping his balance. There were examples on tape of him losing his balance by reaching too far over his feet, despite his impressive functional length. While he avoids this at the point of attack, it can be apparent as the play unfolds.
Although he improved against stunts and twists considerably this year, this is an area where he needs to display consistency. Johnson can be late reacting to these defensive adjustments. When he reacts late, Johnson doesn’t have twitchy lateral agility to respond and recover despite an otherwise impressive athletic profile.
Johnson Player Profile
Johnson’s journey to the NFL Draft hasn’t been straightforward. From Bowie, Maryland, via Davidson to his current home on Chestnut Hill, the 6’3″ offensive guard has had to overcome hurdles every step along the way.
The first of those footballing obstacles came while at Riverdale Baptist High School. Despite being an accomplished athlete on the football field and the golf course, Johnson received little to no national recognition. He’d been ascending within his team, earning the Most Improved Award in his junior high school season before accepting the Coaches Award in 2016. Still, no rewards were forthcoming on the recruiting trail.
Having been unranked by the major recruiting sites, Johnson received no FBS offers. Furthermore, he only received one FCS offer from Davidson College of the Pioneer Football League. With no other option to play college football, Johnson headed to North Carolina.
Within two years, the Wildcats’ offensive guard went from unranked and unknown to dominating at the FCS level. Johnson made eight starts while playing 11 games as a freshman in Davidson’s triple-option offense. The following season, he made 11 starts as the Wildcats led the FCS with 428.5 rushing yards per game. His performances earned him a spot on the first-team PFL All-Conference roster. Additionally, Johnson received a Hero Sport All-Sophomore honorable mention.
Johnson’s career at Boston College
With two years of FCS experience under his belt, Johnson opted to enter the transfer portal at the end of the 2018 season. Unlike his high school recruiting experience, the dominating offensive lineman received significant attention at the FBS level, including offers from Power Five programs. When Boston College came knocking, it was too good of an opportunity to miss.
“Coming out of high school, I didn’t have any opportunities to go to a top-notch program like this,” Johnson told ESPN. “When Boston College hit me up, it was a no-brainer.”
Expectations of an immediate impact were tempered, with Johnson having to appeal for exemption from the NCAA’s eligibility regulations. The Eagles were prepared to wait a year before having their new guard hit the field. However, with a waiver granted, Johnson made 13 appearances with seven starts during his junior campaign.
Johnson made his first start for the Eagles against NC State, opening up rushing lanes to the tune of an astonishing 429 yards. His first start brought his first award as he took home ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week honors. Johnson received the award again following a 26-19 win over Pitt. Just three years after being unwanted out of Riverdale Baptist, the Boston College guard received second-team All-ACC recognition.
Johnson elevates himself into the national spotlight
Having settled into his role at left guard, the 2020 season saw more upheaval for Johnson. With changes to the coaching staff and scheme, he was pushed out to the left tackle spot. Despite never playing the position in his career, Johnson missed just two snaps all season. Moreover, he earned third-team All-ACC recognition for his play while impressing sufficiently to earn an invite to the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl.
However, in December 2020, Johnson announced his intention to eschew the NFL Draft. “I’m Back.” It was a simple statement on social media, but it signaled a powerful message for a Boston College offensive line that entered the season as one of the best in the nation.
While injuries at key positions — namely quarterback Phil Jurkovec — limited team success, Johnson thrived. A return to his more natural interior alignment allowed him to showcase his mauling mentality. Yet, when called upon, he once again showcased his ability to kick outside against Virginia Tech in Week 10.
His performances earned him first-team All-ACC recognition. Moreover, he became the first Boston College player to be named to the first-team Walter Camp All-American since 2013. Once again, the Senior Bowl came calling. This time, Johnson will attend the premier all-star game as one of the top interior offensive linemen in the nation.
Tony Pauline’s Scouting Report on Zion Johnson
Positives: Versatile offensive lineman who has been shooting up draft boards. Nasty, has a wide-bodied build, and looks to erase defenders from the action. Blocks with proper lean, stays square, and anchors at the point. Moves well about the field, fires out to the second level, and squares into linebackers to remove them from the action. Strong at the point and gets movement run blocking. Fundamentally sound, adjusts to pick up stunts and blitzes, and always looks for someone to hit. Shows outstanding awareness.
Negatives: Saw action at left tackle throughout his Boston College career but lacks great footwork off the edge. Must do a better job of properly placing his hands into defenders.
Analysis: Many were surprised when Johnson chose to return for a second senior season in 2021, but he had a terrific campaign and shined during Senior Bowl practices. Johnson is athletic as well as versatile and offers possibilities at guard or center on Sundays while also being able to fill in at left tackle in a pinch.