The Los Angeles Rams can say one thing about their seventh round (234th overall) pick Clay Johnston: the 6’1,” 227-pound Baylor linebacker is excited to be in horns. The Rams selected Johnston to likely be backup, as well as, play special teams.
Johnston was a standout throughout his collegiate career, but he was plagued by injuries. His most recent setback was a season-ending knee injury in 2019 he suffered on October 12 against Texas Tech. Although his season was cut short, in just six games he racked up 58 tackles, 2.5 sacks, one interception and five passes defended. Johnston hopes to bring that same intensity to the Rams. He would be a strong addition to the linebacker corps with his strength and quickness.
Stats and Honors:
2019: 58 tackles (eight for a loss), 2.5 sacks, one interception and five pass deflections.
Career: 237 tackles (26.5 for a loss), 4.5 sacks, two interceptions (one returned for 65 yards) and seven pass deflections.
Honors: 2019 All-Big 12 Second Team, 2019 Second Team Academic All-Big 12 and 2018 All-Big 12 Second Team
Johnston is truly a tackling machine. At Baylor, he looked like a heat-seeking missile finding the ball on plays. His fundamentals are great when wrapping up ball carriers and following through on tackles. He is a phenomenal run stopper. According to Pro Football Focus, out of all defensive positions, he had the 31st-best grade. That will be a welcome addition to the Rams, especially going against opponents with strong running attacks in 2020. Johnston can also separate from blockers and play off offensive linemen to make tackles. He also leverages gaps and moves well through congestion. Johnston is patient and plays smart. He can break off in coverage while anticipating the quarterback’s action, many times tackling the quarterback from downfield.
Johnston’s injuries are his biggest mark against him. Throughout his time at Baylor, he had a broken hand, torn ACL and other minor injuries to his knee and wrist that have all caused him to miss multiple games. Johnston is undersized, but not by much. He may need to bulk up slightly. Although he is an excellent tackler, he tends to lean forward to tackle runners and misses on cutbacks. He will also need to be a little faster for better receiver coverage at an NFL level. Tight ends and running backs will be much quicker and will be harder to cover.
Expectations in 2020:
Johnston’s late selection gave Rams head coach Sean McVay an adrenaline shot. It was needed going that late into the draft, but he does not regret picking up the excitable linebacker. Johnston is ready to play despite coming off his serious injury, rehabbing his knee and getting a medical check before the season. Ironically, his injury happened during his one interception when making a cut to the left, avoiding a tackler.
Johnston will bring big playmaking potential to the Rams. Look for him to play on special teams and as a starting linebacker within the next two seasons if he adjusts to the NFL quickly. He will be a solid backup to the inside linebacker with the power to match blockers. Johnston also has the potential to make tackling numbers that would match former Ram Cory Littleton.