View Full Version : Repost: Clark Judge - Draft preview: Texas' Johnson class of linebacker field...

04-24-2005, 02:01 AM
Thought this deserved another looksee since we got the guy...

Draft preview: Texas' Johnson class of linebacker field
April 15, 2005
By Clark Judge
CBS SportsLine.com Senior Writer

This year's linebackers are divided into two categories -- Texas' Derrick Johnson over here, and everyone else over there.

It's not often you have a gap the width of the Verrazano Narrows at one position, but, then, it's not often we have someone with Johnson's considerable abilities either. He's a powerful tackler. He can rush the passer. He's explosive. He's quick. He's aggressive. He's instinctive. He can play inside. He can play outside.
Odell Thurman (left) has some baggage to match his terrific talent.

"I can do it all," he said. "I can come off the edge, come through the middle or whatever."

Johnson is the best linebacker in this year's draft, and, frankly, it's not even close. He won the Nagurski Award, given annually to the country's top defensive player; he won the Butkus Award, given to the nation's top linebacker; he was a unanimous All-Big 12 choice; and he's about to become one of the first defensive players chosen in the April 23-24 NFL Draft.

But for all that he accomplished at Texas, it was something he didn't do that drove him to the top of this year's draft board. He didn't leave school early.

Sure, the thought crossed his mind after the 2003 season, but Johnson decided to stick around the Austin campus for his senior season. Lucky for the Longhorns. As the team's weakside linebacker, he set an NCAA record with nine forced fumbles and completed a career that included nine interceptions and 24 games with double-digit tackles.

Johnson's decision to stay in school is nothing new. Georgia defensive end David Pollack did the same thing a year ago and should also be one of the top defenders taken April 23. But Johnson's decision seems part of a trend at Texas, where wide receiver Roy Williams, a first-round pick by Detroit a year ago, and running back Cedric Benson, a likely top 10 pick this year, put off the pros until after their senior seasons.

"I guess (it's) because of the family atmosphere that we have down in Texas," said Johnson. "It's like home, and nobody wants to leave. I didn't want to leave.

"It's just something at Texas, and I think we're better off. Everybody's situation is a little different, and mine worked out for the best. I became more of a leader on and off the field. I grew up a little bit more."

Johnson was sensational his senior year, forcing a fumble once in every 14 tackles to become the only defensive player among the 10 finalists for the Walter Camp player of the year award. He had a career-high 18 tackles against Oklahoma State; 16 tackles, a forced fumble and an interception against Oklahoma; 14 tackles and a forced fumble in a win over Arkansas; 14 tackles and another forced fumble against Baylor ...

You get the idea.

Part of the credit belongs to Johnson. The guy has extraordinary talent. But part of the credit goes to defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, who stepped in last season to slow Johnson down, make sure he didn't overrun plays and increased his productivity.

"He saw a lot of flaws as far as (my) moving too fast," said Johnson. "He just slowed me down to make my percentage of getting to the ball almost every time much better last year. I've gotten into position a lot of times, and I didn't get fooled on play-action. I was a lot more under control."

His opponents were not. Johnson's numbers speak for themselves.

"I guess it is kind of hard to block me sometimes," he said.

Thirty-one NFL teams are about to find out.


Top Prospects: Linebackers

Top Five

1. Derrick Johnson, Texas
The skinny: A premier player who is the class of the position. Nagurski award winner as country's top defensive player, he set an NCAA record with nine forced fumbles. Extremely quick. Can drop into coverage.

2. Kevin Burnett, Tennessee
The skinny: Athletic, smart, big enough to play inside with speed to drop into coverage. Two-time Academic All-SEC who was co-captain of Vols. Can be inconsistent. Needs to play the run better.

3. Channing Crowder, Florida
The skinny: Some questions about knees that underwent surgeries while in high school. Has the speed to catch ballcarriers from behind. Good motor. Strong. Sometimes gets ridden out of plays.

4. Barrett Ruud, Nebraska
The skinny: Consistent and strong. Can play inside or outside. Smart and instinctive. Tough. Is quick to the ball but is not what scouts consider fast.

5. Odell Thurman, Georgia
The skinny: May be the most gifted of them all, but carries what coaches like to call "baggage" -- meaning he has personal troubles. Hard hitter. Explosive. Solid tackler.

Derrick Johnson says playing his senior year helped him with leadership. (Getty Images)

Anyong Bluth
04-24-2005, 03:22 AM
and yet he was treated as a leaper on draft day... quite funny to me and I can gloat b/c I wanted him from day 1

04-24-2005, 03:35 AM
i have not been this excited about a draft pick since Tony G.