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NFL Draft Film Breakdown: Does Zion Johnson Make Sense for Cincinnati Bengals?

The 22-year-old will likely be taken in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Zion Johnson has steadily risen up boards over the past for months and for good reason. 

He aced every single examination that he's gone through both physically and mentally during the draft cycle. He was a zero-star recruit coming out of high school and originally played college football at Davidson. He later transferred to Boston College where he continued to grow and improve. He played both guard and tackle for the Eagles, but was at his best when playing left guard. He’s not a superb athlete on film despite the phenomenal testing. Instead, he wins with strength, technique, intelligence, and smooth movement.

Let's take a look at the film and see how he would fit with the Bengals. 

What He Does Well

  • Johnson's ability to utilize his core strength to torque defenders is fantastic. He not only moves defenders with this, but will put them on the ground. This is where his strength really shines. He can create movement in a stalemate and will win reps that most linemen normally wouldn't because of this ability.
  • His ability to quickly sit down and anchor against power is impressive. He barely gives up any ground when taking on bullrushes or blitzers from depth. His wide base and low center of gravity help, but he will quickly sink his hips and get underneath the defender to establish leverage.
  • He is very good and mirroring pass rushers and staying latched with his grip strength. He can play within a phone booth very well and his short area quickness is aided by how smooth he is in protection. 
  • Johnson processes everything the defense is doing quickly. Whether it’s a twist, blitz, or slant, he is ready to pick it up. He does not seem to be confused by post snap movement and is typically in great position to pass off stunts.
  • He works really well on his combination and double team blocks. He utilizes great footwork on both gallop and more traditional doubles/combos and knows precisely when to come off of these blocks. He is rarely caught hanging on to them for too long.
  • He plays with nastiness and wants to exert his will upon the defense on every snap. The defense will know pain with the style that he plays with. He will look to put defenders on the ground often and establish a physical brand of football.

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What Needs Work

  • Johnson doesn't have the best balance. Late in reps, he will fall off of blocks or be tossed aside because of this issue. Strong defensive tackles gave him issues in the run game when they were able to match him.
  • Despite his combine testing, he isn't an elite athlete. This doesn't show up too often in pass protection, but it does show up in the run game and on screens. Mostly when he hits the open field and he cannot quickly adjust to linebackers trying to dip underneath him. Sometimes he is too slow to get out on screens to pick up players as well.
  • His stance is a bit off with how far back his outside foot is and how it’s pointed outwards. Along with this, his kick slide could use some work because it’s a bit choppy at times and his kick foot can end up getting too high off of the ground. This is one of the only technical issues that I saw on film.

Overall Thoughts

Johnson is a former golfer that has worked from nothing to become a first round pick. He won in college despite his limited experience and will look to continue to do so at the NFL level.

In pass protection, he has the strength and technical ability to quickly sit and anchor against defenders who try to bully him while also having the velvety smooth movement ability to mirror players who threaten either edge. He does a great job in confined areas to keep up with pass rushers. This combination should make him a quality pass protector early in his NFL career. He also is a very cerebral player who will pick up stunts at a heightened level. He just needs to iron out his kick slide and to place him in a more acceptable stance.

In the run game, he may not have elite movement traits, but he makes up for it with his strength and technical proficiency. The torque he creates with his core strength is phenomenal. He also does a wonderful job on combination blocks and double teams for the zone running game. Finally, the malevolence that he brings to the running game is something that other teams will covet.

Scheme Fit

He works best in a varied running game, but also should not need much help in pass protection. He can make every block at the NFL level, but would be best served in a situation where he is not asked to consistently play in space.


Mid-Late First Round

NFL Comparison

Ali Marpet

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