By Michael Stets
ALLEN PARK – The Lions closed out Day 3 of the 2019 NFL Draft with a pair of picks in Round 7. First up, they selected Georgia tight end Isaac Nauta with pick No.224.
Nauta, 29, is the second tight end to be taken in this draft after GM Bob Quinn took Iowa’s T.J. Hockenson with pick No.8 in the opening round. Nauta started 13 of 14 games in his junior year with the Bulldogs, finishing the season with 30 receptions, 430 yards and three touchdowns.
He’s undersized for a tight end at six-foot-three and 244 pounds and doesn’t possess a whole lot of speed either. He ran a 4.9 second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.
The Athletic’s NFL Draft expert Dane Brugler has this analysis on Nauta: “Overall, Nauta isn’t a dynamic route runner, but his tape shows reliable ball skills and point-of-attack toughness as a blocker, which will help him compete for NFL starting snaps.”
Nauta played his best in big games in 2018, turning in fine efforts against Florida (5 receptions 73 yards) and Alabama (4 receptions 81 yards and a touchdown).
Do those performances prove he’s ready for the next level?
“I think it shows that I’m a gamer, and I love the game of football and I want to do everything I can to help my team win,” Nauta said in a conference call with local media. “I think when you carry that mindset, plays will come to you and when they come, you have to make them. I’ve put in the work to put myself in the position to make those plays. I think it’s just a prize to all the work I’ve put in.”
Nauta joins a very crowded position group, which now includes Hockenson, Michael Roberts, Jesse James, and Logan Thomas.
With pick No.229, the team’s final pick of the 2019 NFL Draft, the Lions selected Arizona defensive tackle P.J. Johnson.
Johnson, 22, played in 10 games in his senior season in 2018, earning All-Pac 12 honorable mention after recording 31 tackles (8.5 for a loss), three sacks, two fumble recoveries and a safety. Johnson’s path to the NFL was anything but unique. He played his first three seasons at Sacramento State, battled injuries (burst appendix, leg tumor), transferred to a JUCO school and played one year at City College of San Francisco before finding his way to Arizona.
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein’s gave this breakdown on Johnson: “Big, upright interior defender who can be a disruptive force against the run thanks to his upper body twitch that allows for quick wins at the point of attack. Leg stiffness definitely limits his bend causing inconsistencies with his anchor and functional change of direction. He could be a late to undrafted player, but his ability to beat the block in front of him and cause chaos could earn him a spot as a rotational defensive tackle.”
Johnson was actually on the phone with the Baltimore Ravens discussing the possibility of signing as an undrafted free agent when he received the call from the Lions.
It will be interesting to see how head coach Matt Patricia and defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni will work the six-foot-three, 320-pounder into the defensive line rotation, and how they will look the utilize his very raw skill set.
“They drafted me for a reason,” Johnson said. “They liked my attributes, so I feel like that puts me in a position to earn [a way] to be on the team.”