The San Francisco 49ers have yet to re-sign starting NT Ian Williams to an extension and as a result may be going in another direction, as the 49ers are heavily linked to Penn State’s NT Austin Johnson according to Chase Goodbread of NFL.com.
Jason Garrett watching Penn State DT Austin Johnson pic.twitter.com/SqmpB5z7C9
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) January 27, 2016
However, the 49ers aren’t the only team that met with Johnson as the Green Bay Packers, Oakland Raiders, and Kansas City Chiefs have all shown considerable interest early on at the Senior Bowl festivities.
There is no question as to whether the 49ers should re-sign Williams. He is the team’s best run defender while also being one of the team’s captains. Deciding not to re-sign a team captain would turn heads inside that locker room, and that’s something 49ers GM Trent Baalke can’t afford to do, especially if he’s trying to win now.
FYI #49ers were seen talking to Penn State NT Austin Johnson @ Senior Bowl practice so that could be a sign. Johnson would be 2nd-3rd grade
— Ryan Sakamoto (@SakamotoRyan) January 27, 2016
But with Williams’ future in doubt as he has yet to sign an extension, what exactly does Johnson bring to the table? For one, he instantly becomes a targeted player at nose tackle due to his massive frame as he stands 6-4 and 323 pounds. A true two-gap player at the zero technique, Johnson would be a nice fit under 49ers’ DC Jim O’Neil’s odd-man front.
#49ers seen talking to NT Austin Johnson (Penn St.) which is interesting considering UFA NT Ian Williams has yet to strike deal w/team.
— Ryan Sakamoto (@SakamotoRyan) January 26, 2016
Johnson has the ability to get ‘skinny’ and hit ball-carriers in the backfield but consistency in this area must be improved. By no means am I saying that Johnson can replace Williams because they are on two different levels but as an alternative and cheaper plan B, Johnson may be their best bet.
With the 49ers trying to rebuild their team back into a playoff contender, it will be interesting to see which players they are linked to at the Senior Bowl, as DB Jimmie Ward, SS Jaquiski Tartt, and TE Vance McDonald among others, have all made a good impression during this part of the draft process.