Austin Johnson is heading to the NFL.
With the 43rd overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Tennessee Titans selected the former Penn State defensive tackle in the second round on Friday night.
“We targeted Austin for awhile there,” said Titans GM Jon Robinson on a live broadcast. “There’s a lot of versatility on the DL with him. He’s a great trait guy and has some quickness. He can win on third down situations.”
Johnson, who declared his intent to enter the NFL just after his junior season, was the first Penn State player to be selected in this year’s draft.
“We couldn’t be happier for Austin,” said Penn State head coach James Franklin in a statement. “After graduating from Penn State in just three and a half years, he is ready to move to the next level. With his size, strength and great footwork, Austin has the ability to fit a 3-4 or a 4-3 defensive scheme, which not a lot of guys can do. I can see him being a fantastic contributor for the Titans.”
We targeted Austin for a while there. There’s a lot of versatility on the DL with him. He’s a great trait guy, and has some quickness. He can win on third down situations.
Titans GM Jon Robinson
Added defensive line coach Sean Spencer, “AJ is a true student of the game with a really high level of intelligence football-wise. He is a freak athlete. The combination of being 6-4, 315 pounds, moves like a cat with tremendous power at the point of attack and an unbelievable ability to make moves in short quarters makes me believe that his next step is going to be tremendous. He is going to be a great pro and I look forward to the future for AJ.”
The 6-foot-4, 313-pound New Jersey native was a prodigious run-stuffer on a defensive line that became one of the best in the nation in 2015.
At Penn State, he saw time in all 12 games his redshirt freshman year and recorded 27 tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack and a fumble recovery.
In 2014, defensive line coach Sean Spencer moved then-defensive end Anthony Zettel inside to complement Johnson, and there the line began to see its production increase enormously.
Johnson, who played at 323 pounds and shifted from the three-technique to the one often as a part of Spencer’s scheme, gobbled up double teams to free Zettel to have the best season of his career — the latter recorded a team-best 17 tackles for loss and eight sacks. Johnson finished the year with 49 tackles, six tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries and a sack.
In 2016, Johnson’s final season with the Nittany Lions, he diversified his game to include a bit of pass-rushing (he finished the year with 6 1/2 sacks) and even a 75-yard scoop-and-score against San Diego State. He also finished the year with 78 tackles (third-best on the team) and 15 tackles for loss.
Johnson received the call that he’d been selected while watching the draft from his home with his family. He is the sixth Penn State defensive tackle to be drafted since 2003 and the fifth Penn State player to go to the Titans since 2004.
The defensive tackle will join former teammate DaQuan Jones on the Titans. Jones was drafted in the fourth round in 2014.