If you spent any amount of time watching Mizzou play football last season, you’re probably familiar with the Tigers’ need for an influx of talent along the offensive line. The Tigers got a jolt in that regard last week when former Eastern Michigan left tackle Marcellus Johnson committed to Mizzou over reported offers from BYU, Kentucky, South Carolina, Illinois, Kansas, Wisconsin, Colorado, Auburn, among many others.
I am fully committed to the University of Missouri! @mjohnson7672 pic.twitter.com/0Rep6HwLAM— Marcellus Johnson (@marcellus3006) January 8, 2023
In the illustrious words of Joe Biden, “this is a big ******* deal!”
Johnson was a highly sought after transfer. Finding a transfer with more than 2,000 career snaps is damn near impossible. Finding a transfer with that kind of D1 experience... and did so while playing at a high level? Johnson might as well be a unicorn.
A little background on Johnson, if you don’t mind. The former 2-star recruit out of Normal, Illinois chose Eastern Michigan out of high school over offers from Indiana State, Missouri State, North Dakota and Wyoming. He led all Eastern Michigan offensive players in snaps played in 2020 (439) and was tied for the team lead in 2021 (911) and 2022 (929). He’s only taken one offensive snap at a position other than left tackle in his entire collegiate career. That’s some serious consistency.
Where he’ll play: This is a question that seems to be up in the air. If you go by his history, Johnson should be the locked in starter at left tackle from day one. But the Tigers are believed to have Javon Foster returning, and he’s done nothing to lose his job. So could Johnson be the one on the move? It sounds like that is possible.
From Dave Matter: “Johnson would like to prove to NFL teams he can play more than one position on the offensive line in his year at Missouri as well as sharpening up his pass protection skills.”
That would seem to indicate Johnson is at the very least open to moving around the offensive line to find his best spot. Having versatility to find the Tigers’ five best up front is not a bad thing by any means. Johnson joins Foster and Armand Membou as the most likely options at offensive tackle. If Johnson prefers to kick inside to guard (I wouldn’t expect it, but I suppose it’s possible), he would be a noticeable upgrade from the Tigers’ options along he interior last season.
When he’ll play: Okay, this is easier. Johnson is going to play early and often. He has one year of eligibility remaining, and he’s coming to Missouri to prove his skills against the highest level of competition. An impressive showing could propel Johnson’s NFL career. It’s really that simple.
What it all means: The Tigers added an instant impact player at a position of need. This is what the transfer portal is supposed to be there for. Johnson proved his abilities at a lower level and now he’s spending his final season at a higher level. Alright, enough old man yelling at clouds.
What you want to know is how good Johnson is, and how much he’ll upgrade the Tigers’ offensive line. Here’s what I saw when watching Johnson against Northern Illinois, Western Michigan and San Jose State:
- He does a great job when he’s in a traditional pass set if the edge rusher tries to work up the arc. His struggles in pass protection primarily come against inside moves, and he did show some issues against stunts but that’s no different than the vast majority of college offensive linemen.
- In the running game, Johnson is at his best when he’s blocking downhill. He excels in a zone blocking scheme, but his success working up to the second level is hit-and-miss. I didn’t see a ton of work pulling on counters, but his angles were a problem at times.
Don’t let those weaknesses scare you. Johnson was graded by Pro Football Focus last year as one of the best offensive tackles in his conference. He comes to Missouri with some high quality tape and more than 2,000 snaps to his name. This is a big get, one that could pay off significant dividends in 2023.