INDIANAPOLIS — When it comes to which offensive line prospects have the most experience at their position heading into the 2023 NFL Draft, Ohio State left tackle Paris Johnson Jr is at the extreme low end of the scale.
When it comes to just about everything else, he’s off the charts.
Johnson, who measured in at the combine at 6-foot-6, 313 pounds with whopping 36 1/8-inch arms, played just three seasons with the Buckeyes before declaring early for the draft after his junior season.
In his three years in Columbus, he spent 2020 mostly as a backup and was a starter at right guard in 2021 before moving to left tackle ahead of the 2022 season.
Johnson think he’s a natural tackle, and he’s certainly being evaluated that way by the NFL teams interested in his services. But there’s only 13 games’ worth of film to evaluate his ability at that spot.
Luckily for Johnson, his athletic profile gives teams plenty to hope on. That started out at a very young age for Johnson, even though he took to football relatively later in life growing up in Cincinnati.
“I did hockey, I was in gymnastics,” Johnson said at the NFL Combine last week. “My mom took me out when all the (other) guys got out, too. My mom just had me in all types of sports. I played tee ball. I played soccer. I was in wrestling when I was younger and I did it a year in high school. I hated wrestling, but I think it’s something that helps with the mental toughness and the physicality of the sport and the endurance that it takes to play the sport at this level.”
Even when he did take to football as a primary sport, offensive line wasn’t the first place he landed.
“I started out as a safety, then I was a quarterback, believe it or not,” Johnson said. “Then I was a receiver, a tight end and a defensive end. I’ve been playing that mix of positions just as long as I’ve been playing offensive line.”
As Johnson grew, his position became evident, and he doesn’t necessary see his lack of experience at the spot as a downside.
“I think the fact that I played a year at right guard and a year at left tackle just shows my versatility and my ability to pick up a new position and also my willingness to do so,” Johnson said.
“I think I’m a natural tackle, but at the same time, I want to be part of the best five. So if I’ve got to go snap and be the center, I’ll do it. … It took time and it took all those spring practices, all the time in fall camp and at the same time, most of the work was things I’m doing away (from the team).”
TALE OF THE TAPE
Measured at combine: 6-foot-6, 313 pounds, 36 1/8-inch arm span
Combine results: 9-foot-2 broad jump, 29 bench press reps
PARIS JOHNSON SCOUTING REPORT
Johnson does not move like a 300-pound man, and he’s especially dangerous in space in the running game. On plays like a pin-pull, where the tackle moves around the down-blocking tight end, he’s especially good.
“I feel like I have good feet and I feel like the violence that I play with, too, out in space, is crucial,” Johnson said. “In order to get the body blows to succeed at tackle, when you’re on an island, over and over again, it’s those body blows and that violence out in space to slow your man down.”
Johnson’s technique in pass protection could be improved, as well as his physical strength, and he frequently defeated opponents with just his pure size and athleticism as opposed to technical prowess.
The combination of traits is why some see him as a better fit as a right tackle than a left tackle in the NFL. Either way, he was already one of the best tackles in one of the toughest conferences and has the athletic profile to be even better. Johnson has the upside to be one of the very best tackles in the NFL in a few years
HOW DOES HE FIT
The Steelers got underwhelming performances from both starting tackles in 2022, though where Johnson would immediately fit is unclear. They could choose to upgrade either, and could also choose to move both extant tackles if replaced.
Johnson could play left tackle and move Dan Moore Jr. to guard. He could play right tackle, move Chuks Okorafor to left tackle and Dan Moore Jr. to guard. He could play right tackle and the team could release Okorafor, saving a big pile of salary cap space.
Either way, file this all under “good problems to have” should the Steelers be able to land the big Buckeye.
WHERE WILL PARIS JOHNSON BE DRAFTED?
This is where all of this hits a snag. While Johnson had been consistently mocked near the Steelers’ pick No. 17 during the season, since the Big Ten Championship Game, his stock has consistently risen.
Currently, according to NFL Mock Draft Database, Johnson is the 10th-best prospect, and the current consensus mock draft has him going to the Tennessee Titans at pick No. 11.
There is time for that to change between now and draft day, but measurement concerns for Northwestern tackle Peter Skoronski likely have Johnson in place as the top tackle in the class.
In order for the Steelers to get Johnson, they would likely need him to fall a bit from his current projection, and/or to make a short trade up the draft board. But with an extra second-round pick from the Chase Claypool trade to the Chicago Bears, that is possible for the Steelers this year.