Why Tom Johnson Will Emerge as New Orleans Saints Best Defensive Tackle in 2012

Zayne GranthamContributor IIIFebruary 16, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 04:  Quarterback Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions looks to pass as he is rushed by defensive tackle Tom Johnson #96 of the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 4, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The New Orleans Saints have one major area of need in the 2012 NFL offseason, and that is the defensive line. However, they have a promising star on the rise at the defensive tackle position.

That player is Tom Johnson.

Johnson came to the Saints last year after spending a few years in the Canadian Football League and Arena Football League. In the CFL, Johnson was an All-Star and performed well enough for the Saints to sign him to a three-year deal last offseason.

In his first year in the NFL, Johnson played pretty well. He appeared in 15 games throughout the season and showed bursts of brilliance.

The best facet of Johnson's game is his motor and hustle. Those two things cannot really be taught in the league, and Johnson possesses them naturally.

There were many plays in the 2011 season Johnson was able to make simply because he ran down the ball carrier and never gave up. That sets him apart from the crowd immediately. Johnson also stands at 6'3" and weighs 288 pounds. He has some room to add some weight, but he is already a large figure in the middle of that defensive line.

His uncommon size allows him to play with speed, but he can also bull rush the opposing offensive line if necessary. Johnson has a unique combination of size and speed that will allow him to play the position differently than most defensive tackles.

A typical tackle in the NFL is either a large guy that eats up blockers, or a smaller, fast tackle that penetrates the offensive line. The Saints can have both with Johnson on their team.

The fact that New Orleans landed defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo helps tremendously as well. Spagnuolo expects his defensive line to get pressure, and they are by far the most important part of his defenses.

Johnson will become a very important part to Spagnuolo's defense in 2012, especially if the Saints let both Shaun Rogers and Aubrayo Franklin walk in free agency.

Johnson will likely be able to earn a starting role in 2012 regardless of who else ends up on the roster. He showed in 2011 that he can not only stuff the run, but get after the passer. That is exactly what the Saints need from the interior of their defensive line.

Spagnuolo and the Saints will likely spend a good portion of the offseason coaching up Johnson, and it will be interesting to see what one full offseason with NFL coaches can do for this young defensive tackle.

I believe that Johnson has a lot of potential for the position, and 2012 will showcase just how good he is.

The Saints will likely keep either Franklin or Rogers, and they already have Sedrick Ellis on the roster, as well as a few defensive tackles on the practice squad.

There is a good chance that the Saints will target a defensive tackle in the draft, and he would likely come in and join the rotation immediately. However, Johnson and Ellis are likely to start 2012 as the top tackles.

I do not expect Johnson to start 2012 at an amazing level and look like Ndamukong Suh for the Saints, but I do believe that he will increase greatly as the season progresses. By the end of next year, Johnson will be a consistent playmaker for the Saints, and one of the better defensive tackles in the league.