Austin Johnson is a New Jersey native who played his prep football at St. Augustine Prep under head coach Dennis Scuderi. He was named an all-state and All-Cape-Atlantic League selection as a senior after helping his team to a Cape-Atlantic League title in 2012. He ended his career ranked among the top 25 defensive tackle prospects in the country by Scout.com. Johnson was also an all-state basketball player who helped lead his team to a NJSIAA Non-Public Group A State Championship during his junior season.
Johnson stayed somewhat close to home by committing to play his college football at Penn State in Happy Valley. After a redshirt season in 2012, Johnson earned a pair of starts the following season while playing a role in all 12 games. He finished with 27 tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack, and a fumble recovery.
He took his production up a notch as a sophomore with 49 tackles, six tackles for loss, another sack, three pass deflections, and a pair of fumble recoveries. In Johnson’s final season, he broke out with 78 total tackles, a whopping 15 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, two pass deflections, a forced fumble, and another fumble recovery. Johnson was named a Second-Team All-Big Ten performer after the season, along with being named the Reid-Robinson Award winner for the team’s most-outstanding defensive lineman.
Johnson would go on to be drafted by the Titans in the second round of the 2016 NFL draft with the 43rd-overall pick. He’d spend the next four seasons in Tennessee, recording 13 total starts and playing in 58 games. His final stats with the Titans include 83 tackles, four tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks.
Johnson would sign a free agent contract with the Giants ahead of the 2020 season. He’d spent that first year in New York as a rotational player coming off the bench before earning his first full-time starting role in 2021. That year, Johnson set career highs in tackles (78), tackles for loss (six), sacks (3.5), and quarterback hits (seven).
Once again hitting the market after the 2021 season, Johnson would sign a two-year deal to join the Chargers for the 2022 and 2023 seasons.
In his first year with the Bolts, Johnson started the team’s first eight games before sustaining a season-ending injury against the Falcons. Prior to that, Johnson had recorded 22 tackles, three tackles for loss, and a lone sack.
College: Penn State
Years with team: 1
“Austin Johnson signed a 2 year, $14,000,000 contract with the Los Angeles Chargers, including a $5,500,000 signing bonus, $10,625,000 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $7,000,000. In 2023, Johnson will earn a base salary of $6,750,000, while carrying a cap hit of $9,500,000 and a dead cap value of $6,125,000.” - Spotrac.com
Johnson had played in at least 16 regular season games every year from 2017 to 2021, showing the type of availability and consistency the Chargers hoped to get out of him in 2022. Despite the recent injury, history tells us Johnson is more likely to bounce back and stay healthy this year as opposed to missing additional time with future injuries.
As a member of the Giants, Johnson helped create a stout duo along the interior with Dexter Lawrence. His ideal size and strength at the point of attack will once again be relied upon this year as the Bolts desperately need to plug the plethora of leaks throughout their run defense.
The Chargers added Austin Johnson to boost the run defense; you can see why here.— Gavino Borquez (@GavinoBorquez) September 13, 2022
Violent strike, inside hand placement, extension, leverage, eye control & shed.
Khalil Mack also does a great job setting the edge and getting in on the tackle. pic.twitter.com/blQpsKIBU2
There aren’t many silver linings when it comes to injuries. They happened and there’s no going back to the time before the event. I’m sure Johnson will do his best to play like it never happened, but these things can linger if not properly rehabbed and recovered from.
Johnson’s first six games of the season were fairly strong as a run defender, but his final two outings against the Seahawks and Falcons were the two worst-graded games of his season by Pro Football Focus before the injury occurred. His run defense grade of 28.2 was one of the worst single-game grades of his career against Atlanta and the Chargers have to hope he doesn’t pick up where he left off
Odds of making the roster/What to expect in 2023?
Johnson will make the team as one of the starting defensive tackles alongside Sebastian Joseph-Day. The unfortunate injury cut short what looked to become one of Johnson’s best seasons as a professional, but it seems like the coaching staff is bringing him back slowly in hopes that he’ll be able to stay healthy for the entire regular season. Should this happen, there’s no doubt the Chargers’ run defense has a chance to climb out of the cellar of the NFL.