Colts take on Missouri State DL Eric Johnson in 5th round of NFL Draft
INDIANAPOLIS — Colts general manager Chris Ballard has a long history of using draft picks on small-school players.
Linebacker Darius Leonard (South Carolina State) played at the FCS level. Linebacker EJ Speed (Tarleton State), nose tackle Grover Stewart (Albany State), and receiver Michael Strachan (Charleston) played in NCAA Division II.
Indianapolis used its fifth-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft to add another player to that line, signing Missouri State defensive tackle Eric Johnson with pick No. 159, the fifth pick the Colts have. done this weekend.
Johnson, a 6-4, 300-pounder who had 43 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and blocked three kicks in his final season with the Bears last fall, first drew serious NFL attention in a place the Colts have long sought talent, the Senior Bowl.
And he earned that shot by dominating the rest of the field at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, a much less glamorous showcase than the Senior Bowl spotlight in Mobile, Alabama.
“For me, in particular, it was really important, because I was under a lot of people’s radar, and coming from a smaller division, not many people saw the film of me, not many people knew me” , Johnson mentioned. “I could shock a lot of people, go out and show what I can do.”
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The teams took note.
Once an afterthought in the draft process who thought he should earn a spot as a priority free agent, Johnson backed up his game in bowl games by testing speed cards (4.88 seconds in the 40 ) and in explosiveness at his Pro Day.
NFL teams started calling.
The Missouri State tackle made nine official visits to different cities so teams could get a closer look.
One stood out from the others.
“Of all the visits, the Colts visit was the most thorough in terms of player analysis, the process we went through in terms of the facility visit, the coaches visit, everything was very thorough, and gave us a complete overview of what we were going to go through, compared to everyone else,” Johnson said. “It was more professional, I would say.”
He had to spend time waiting for Saturday to hear his name.
Indianapolis moved from its fourth round to third round to get left tackle Bernhard Raimann, then patiently waited Saturday for more than two hours to add to a draft class that had already met most of its needs.
By the time the Colts were on the clock, they could take a chance on a defensive tackle that fits their scheme perfectly. Johnson’s speed and explosiveness are ideal for the Indianapolis Attack Front, a defensive line philosophy that asks its linemen to attack gaps on every play, rather than read or hold blocks.
Destroy everything in their path is the Colts’ new motto up front.
A perfect motto for a defensive tackle who calls himself The Creature on his Twitter profile. The idea started because of a former teammate who had the same initials as Johnson, EJ, which prompted a search for a nickname with his father, Eric, who played in the CFL and XFL.
“My dad and I always talk about characters when we play the game,” Johnson said. “He was like, ‘How do you want to play when you’re there? Like a creature. Like an animal.'”
In Indianapolis, the Colts likely won’t be asking Johnson to play a lot of snaps right away with Stewart and Pro Bowler DeForest Buckner entrenched in front of him, along with defensive ends Dayo Odeyingbo and Tyquan Lewis able to slip inside during passes.
The hope is that when Johnson steps into the game, he lives up to his moniker.