SLEEPER SUNDAY: OG Zack Johnson
Zack Johnson — OG, North Dakota State University
Height – 6’4″
Weight – 331 lbs.
Age – 23
At First Glance
Johnson graduated from Eastview High School in 2012 with a destination already set in stone; he’d committed to North Dakota State on October 4, 2011. The 6’3,” 305-pound tackle from St. Paul, Minnesota was named to the Associated Press and Minnesota Coaches Association all-state second team his senior season and arrived in Fargo with plenty of local pedigree.
His freshman year, Johnson appeared in 13 games and made one start at left guard. The following season, he was named to the All-Missouri Valley Football Conference second team and started every game at left guard.
On November 11, he was named MVFC Offensive Lineman of the Week after a dominant performance against Youngstown State; he recorded 13 knockdowns and allowed zero quarterback hurries or sacks.
Unfortunately, Johnson injured his knee in 2013 and sat out the following season with a redshirt designation. He returned in 2015 and enjoyed a return to form. Johnson received multiple honors and recognitions, including:
- 2015 Associated Press All-America Third Team
- 2015 College Sporting News “Fab 50” Honorable Mention
- 2015 All-MVFC First Team
Though Johnson missed three games due to injury that season, he made 11 starts at left guard and received an invite to the coveted East-West Shrine Game. There, he received praise from numerous scouts in attendance before tearing his MCL in a practice session. According to WDAZ, Johnson expects to be “full-go” by NDSU’s pro day in March
The Vikings Slant
The lack of tape on Johnson makes his evaluation as a prospect almost impossible. Unless you watched every NDSU game the past three or four years, your knowledge of the redshirt junior lineman is extremely limited. Here’s what we do know: Dane Brugler of CBS Sports has a seventh-round grade on Johnson, though he also considers the Bison guard a potential undrafted free agent.
Johnson follows in the footsteps of Joe Haeg, the last NDSU linemen drafted in the NFL. Haeg, who we highlighted last year, was selected by the Indianapolis Colts in the fifth round and started at three different spots along the offensive line. Johnson doesn’t have Haeg’s same versatility, but he’d likely be able to swap between right and left guard spots if asked to do so.
And given the age of Joe Berger—33 years—adding depth at one of Minnesota’s weakest position groups has to be a priority for the Vikings. Here’s where things get tricky for Rick Spielman, though — do you target offensive linemen early in the draft or stick to the script of selecting guard, tackle, or center prospects in the later rounds?
Spielman spoke to reporters late last week, noting his failures to address the line in the early rounds. His last first-round selection was on Matt Kalil in 2012, and since then, Spielman’s utilized the last half of the draft to build depth with players like T.J. Clemmings and Austin Shepherd. Obviously, it hasn’t worked for the Vikings, who continue to struggle running the football and protecting the quarterback despite spending money on free agents like Andre Smith.
Of note, Spielman’s shown a tendency to take late-round fliers on players with severe injuries or lengthy injury histories. If he sticks to those tendencies and doesn’t apply the lessons from his studies to this year’s draft, Johnson fits the mold of a late-round selection for the Vikings.
Johnson’s recovery from an MCL tear could push his stock down, making Minnesota a potential destination for the St. Paul native. With younger, cheaper talent like Zac Kerin, Nick Easton, and Jeremiah Sirles on the roster already, Spielman can afford to spend his late picks on a developmental lineman like Johnson.
Hey, if he used a selection on Moritz Böhringer the last offseason, Johnson is well worth a seventh-round pick this year.