Nico Johnson, a three-time national championship-winning linebacker from the University of Alabama, brings depth to a Kansas City Chiefs linebacker group that is quietly shaping into one of the deepest in the league.
A fourth-round pick in the draft this past April, Johnson joins a squad that already has stars Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson and added depth by signing Akeem Jordan and Zac Diles as free agents this offseason. All that depth will make it hard for Johnson to earn playing time this year, but sometimes competition brings out the best in young NFL players.
One advantage he has coming into his rookie campaign is that he played in Nick Saban‘s 3-4 system the past four years in Tuscaloosa. That system, which has dominated the SEC since Saban’s arrival, is as close to an NFL defense as a college player will have the opportunity to gain experience in while playing college football.
That experience in a pro-style defense will make the transition to the NFL easier for Johnson than most rookie linebackers. While at Alabama, he was asked to do many of the things he will be asked to do in the NFL, like adjusting his positioning before the snap and dropping back into coverage in the passing game.
Johnson is a prototypical 3-4 inside linebacker who’s good at everything but great at nothing. He’s solid against the running game, always willing to give up his body to take on a lead blocker or blow up a pulling offensive lineman. With a respectable 4.73 time in the 40-yard dash, he has the speed to stay with most tight ends and running backs in pass coverage. His pass rushing skills though could use improving after getting only two sacks in his four year career at Alabama.
Playing time at linebacker for the Chiefs will be hard to come by this year, but that’s nothing new to a player like Johnson. Getting playing time at a school like Alabama, especially at linebacker, is never easy either.
If the opportunity arises, and eventually they usually do, Johnson has the skills to be a real contributor to a developing defense in Kansas City.