EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. –The Vikings used their first two picks of the 2017 NFL Draft for offensive players but kicked off Saturday morning by going defense.
Minnesota had the second pick of the day, 109th overall, and used it to select defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson.
In a conference call with Twin Cities media, Johnson called being drafted "a dream come true" and something he had been working toward from an early age.
Johnson, who redshirted his freshman season in 2012, played four seasons for Iowa. He bided time in 2013 and 2014 in the midst of a deep Hawkeyes defensive line but came on the scene his junior season as a full-time starter. Over his Iowa career, Johnson played 48 games and started 27 of them, totaling 112 tackles (53 solo), 18 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, three passes broken up and a safety.
As a senior in 2016, Johnson led the Hawkeyes with 10 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks en route to receiving First-Team All-Big honors by conference coaches, the *Associated Press *and Athlon Sports.
"It was just really a matter of going hard, just playing for the team and playing unselfish," Johnson said of his final season at Iowa. "Just going out and playing as hard as I possibly could every single snap."
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer told Twin Cities media that he expects Johnson to be a swing guy, adding depth at nose tackle and the 3-technique.
"He's more of a power rusher than he is a speed, quick kind of rusher," Zimmer said. "But he's very explosive coming out of his hips, very strong point of attack."
Johnson grew up in Brooklyn, New York, but lived with an aunt in Chicago during his high school years. He was a three-year starter as both an offensive and defensive lineman at St. Joseph's High School, where he also earned two letters as a heavyweight wrestler and had an overall record of 21-3. Johnson transferred to Montini Catholic High School as a senior, where he earned prep All-American recognition and was named to First-Team All-State, All-Conference and All-Area teams.
The defensive tackle believes that his background in wrestling helped him to become a better lineman.
"With wrestling, what it taught me is where to place your hands, as far as whether you should be inside or outside," Johnson explained. "It really taught me good leverage, as far as getting a good bend in the hips. What I did in wrestling, I felt like that correlated a lot with the game of football."
Johnson participated in the 2017 Senior Bowl in January and said the all-star game gave him the platform to audition for NFL teams before heading to the combine in Indianapolis the following month.
"The Senior Bowl was huge," Johnson said. "It definitely gave me an opportunity to really go out and compete against some of best guys in the country – guys such as [Temple guard] Dion Dawkins, who went in the second round, guys like [Indiana guard] Dan Feeney. It really just gave me an opportunity to compete and show NFL teams what I can do against good opponents."
Johnson had the opportunity to speak to a number of Vikings personnel throughout the pre-draft process, including defensive line coach Andre Patterson.
"I'm overly excited – I can't put it into words," Johnson said. "[Coach Patterson] has done a great job with guys like Sharrif Floyd. [The Vikings] have a veteran defensive line, and he's done a fantastic job. I'm really ready to add to it and show those guys what I can really do."
Director of Scouting Jamaal Stephenson said the Vikings have done extensive homework on Johnson and then some, considering the close proximity to the University of Iowa.
"We thought he was a really good player," Stephenson said. "I went there myself early in camp and watched him practice. He's a big man, he's strong, he's athletic. We feel like he has value, and he'll fit in well in that d-line room.
Johnson is the eighth Hawkeye drafted by the Vikings in franchise history. He joins fellow Hawkeye alums Riley Reiff (T) and Marshall Koehn (K) on the current Vikings roster and was selected 11 years to the day since Minnesota drafted Chad Greenway 17th overall.
After playing high school football in Chicago and collegiately in Iowa, Johnson is thrilled to be staying in the Midwest and be a part of the NFC North division.
"The thing that I'm really most excited about playing in that division is playing against good guys, good competition," Johnson said. "That's what I'm all about; that's how I've come up. Really just going against some of the best of the best. I'm going to go in there ready to compete."