Talk about checking all the boxes.
Strength? Check. Athleticism? Check. Nastiness? Check. Versatility? Check. Great family? Check. Nice kid? Check.
There’s a reason why Texas Longhorns offensive line signee Tyler Johnson, a Conroe Oak Ridge product, was once ranked as a consensus five-star prospect — on and off the field, Johnson has everything it takes to be successful at the next level.
Currently ranked as the third-highest four-star prospect in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, Johnson will compound all those attributes by enrolling early after a recruitment that never featured even a hint of drama following his late May commitment to the Longhorns.
Credit Johnson and his family for that — Texas head coach Tom Herman said on Early Signing Day that the 6’5, 310-pounder is a “great culture fit” and cited Johnson’s “great family.” Johnson himself is a “super nice off the field.”
On the field, however, the story is a little bit different, meaning that Johnson has the ideal mental makeup for an offensive lineman. He’s not a danger to get in trouble off the field or end up academically ineligible — he was honorable mention Academic All-State this year — but when the pads come on, “there’s a tremendous amount of nastiness,” according to Herman.
Intent on finishing his blocks, Johnson has the size and strength to do so consistently at the high school level, resulting in 50 pancake blocks as a senior. With a conservative assumption of five seconds per play, those 50 pancake blocks would produce over four minutes of film.
Arguably the single trait that makes Johnson so appealing is his versatility — he has the feet and athleticism to play right tackle, but he’s also physically developed enough that Herman expects him to come in and compete for playing time immediately. Furthermore, Herman believes that Johnson could play all tackle, guard, or center at Texas. Perhaps even all of them over the course of his career.
The ability to play center is especially appealing for the future, as Zach Shackelford will exhaust his eligibility after the 2019 season. With Texas missing on elite center prospect Branson Bragg to Stanford in the current recruiting cycle, the Longhorns don’t have a clear long-term option there, though sophomore Derek Kerstetter has taken reps there in practice. So look for the staff to take a look at Johnson snapping the football this spring.
With enough athleticism to work to the second level and a strong enough base to handle mature nose tackles with a low center of gravity, Johnson has the right attributes to play the position.
Those attributes could also help him compete for one of the two starting spots at guard that will open up after the Sugar Bowl. There will be some definite competition there this spring, as the staff is extremely high on redshirting freshman Junior Angilau and redshirting junior Denzel Okafor could also factor into that mix. So could Tope Imade, who is set to enter his fourth season in the program by the time preseason camp comes around next August.
Not only is Johnson the highest-ranked offensive lineman to sign with Texas since Darius James in 2013, he’s also the heaviest offensive lineman to ink with Herman and his staff since their arrival near the end of the 2016 cycle. In fact, offensive line prospects have generally been on the leaner side — Mikey Grandy is the only signee under Herman listed over 300 pounds.
And yet, Johnson is carrying virtually no bad weight and already looks like a collegiate offensive lineman, so when he arrives on the Forty Acres in a matter of days, he won’t have to lose weight, he’ll just have to continue adding strength and refining his technique under position coach Herb Hand.
Eventually, Johnson may be able to contribute at tackle, but it just might take some time since he didn’t get as many game reps in pass protection at Oak Ridge as some other prospects do in more pass-heavy offenses.
The bottom line is that Texas simply hasn’t signed any offensive linemen as talented as Johnson for six cycles. Even James didn’t have the high floor and clear versatility of Johnson. As history showed, the academic issues that James experienced with the Longhorns ultimately ended his career in Austin, so Johnson has an edge there as well after earning recognition as an honorable mention Academic All-State performer in the classroom.
In the recent past, freshmen like Patrick Vahe, Connor Williams, and even Kerstetter coming in and earning starting jobs was a sign of previous program failures. After a little more than 25 months in Austin for Herman, it’s clear that Johnson’s talent and box-checking attributes would be more indicative of his own abilities than continued program malaise if he earns a starting job next season.
And that’s progress.