INDIANAPOLIS — Iowa defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson was an unheralded mid-round prospect until he spent a week in Alabama. Now he’s considered a rising star.
Johnson, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 316 pounds, sizzled through his running drills during Senior Bowl week. That led to some new looks for the first-team all-Big Ten defensive tackle.
Could the first round become a possibility?
“It’s a pretty big deal for anybody, if they hear that,” Johnson said Saturday at the NFL Combine. “At this moment, I’m going to control what I can. My goal right now is to improve as a player, get my mind ready for the combine, ready for the events coming up and really focusing on doing well at my pro day.
“What I do at the pro day, what I do at the combine, that’s what’s going to get me drafted. As of right now, I’m hearing first and early second. That’s all good. But my mindset right now is really attacking this combine and pro day.”
Johnson has met with several NFL teams during the combine and has discussed playing several line positions.
“I’ve heard a lot of different things. I’ve heard 4-3 scheme, 3-technique, nose tackle, 3-4 at that nose position,” Johnson said. “I’ve been hearing a lot of different things.”
Johnson was a two-year starter at Iowa and finished with 10 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks last year for the Hawkeyes. He was named Big Ten defensive player of the week after registering nine tackles, including a sack, plus a safety in Iowa’s 14-13 upset of then-No. 3 Michigan.
In Iowa’s 4-3 defense, Johnson was a formidable two-gap tackle, but that didn’t showcase many of his other skills. So when he competed at the Senior Bowl, he decided to focus on how he attacked the quarterback.
“The thing I wanted to prove the most was my ability to pass rush,” Johnson said. “I know there have been talks on whether or not I can pass rush as opposed to stopping the run. At the Senior Bowl, I made it my job to go out and really prove I can pass rush. I think I did that.”
Johnson trained in Pensacola, Fla., for the NFL combine’s physical drills. He spoke with former Iowa teammate and current Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Carl Davis about what he could expect on the mental side.
“The thing that he told me was make the most out of this opportunity,” Johnson said. “There will be times when I’m in situations like this, meeting with teams, meeting with reporters, and it’s going to get overwhelming. But just take it how it comes, take it with a grain of salt. It’s a good experience. It’s not going to make me or break me as a person. It’s a good experience, so why not make the most of it?”