Johnson grew up in Brooklyn, but his parents sent him to live with an aunt in Chicago for his high school years -- a move likely to be paid off with a long NFL career. He had to wait a while before getting significant playing time due to Iowa's depth in the interior defensive line. Johnson redshirted in 2012, played in seven games as a reserve the following season (one tackle), and then had 11 tackles, 2.5 for loss, as a reserve in 2014. Given the starting role as a junior, Johnson garnered honorable mention All-Big Ten honors (45 tackles, 5.5 for loss, four sacks). He stepped up his game in 2016, being named first-team all-conference after doing something rare for an interior lineman -- leading his team with 10 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks.
Has good foot quickness and a plus motor. Early bird into the neutral zone off the snap. Accelerates into blockers with forceful punch at point of attack. Maximizes his length. Uses one-arm jab and long-arm push to disengage from blockers and generate a bull rush. Loose hips and flexible upper body are play-making tools. Plays with good energy and gives you what he's got. Won't catch him leaning on blocks for a rest. Hands and feet are in constant concert to improve positioning and defeat run or pass blocks. Rushes with both effort and skill. Always working to the edge of a blocker with quick feet and violent hands. Change-of-direction talent creates difficulties for plodding guards. Had one of his finest games in upset over third-ranked Michigan.
Too upright at point of attack. Narrow base and elevated pad level create issues for him against double teams. Might not have the anchor necessary to operate inside a two-gap scheme. Contact balance is below average. Unable to consistently fight back against a quality down block. Is a little soft around the middle and lacking thickness through arms. Limited number of tackles for loss. Can be a little slow to recognize screen passes.
View images of Vikings new DT Jaleel Johnson from his days at Iowa.
Active defensive tackle with the motor and athleticism to find production in the NFL. Johnson doesn't have the functional anchor that teams looking for a run-stuffer will be after. However, his effort, foot quickness and hand usage should create opportunities for him as a pass rusher. Johnson has the talent to become an eventual starter as a three-technique in a penetrating defensive front and could fight for rotational reps early on as a rookie.