Three days ago on April 6, New York Jets beat reporter DJ Bien-Aime of the NY Daily News reported that the franchise would use one of their 30 official pre-draft visits on Florida State edge rusher Jermaine Johnson II.
On April 8, David Wyatt-Hupton of SB Nation and Jets X-Factor confirmed that the pass-rushing prospect had officially visited with Gang Green.
Johnson has surged up draft boards like a rocketship the past couple of months because of his dominant performance at the Senior Bowl and the combine, but the promising talent has overcome much more than low draft projections to get to this point.
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From ‘Last Chance U’ to the First Round
After Johnson struggled with academic issues in high school, the former junior college prospect ended up at Independence Community College, which was the subject of seasons three and four of the Netflix documentary series “Last Chance U.”
From there, Johnson earned a ticket to Georgia but eventually transferred to Florida State for more playing time. Some questioned his potential first-round draft status in 2022, based on this meteoric rise that began in JUCO.
The Seminoles star isn’t the only player to make it to the NFL out of “Last Chance U” and junior college, but he would certainly make for a rare first-round selection if he ends up going in the top 32 this April — the top 10 is almost unheard of. The inspirational journey took self-belief, dedication, and above all else, hard work.
“If you didn’t love the sport you wouldn’t have went the route I did, and hopefully I complete it but you wouldn’t have made it this far,” Johnson told reporters at the Senior Bowl. “I love the game of football and above all, I love all my loved ones that [have] sacrificed for me to be here. It would be selfish of me to give anything but 110%.”
That effort and faith led to a superior showing at the Senior Bowl in February, which is exactly what Johnson hoped to prove against top competition.
At the combine, the edge rusher told CBS Sports that he “wanted to show [he] could dominate the best of the best” in Mobile, Alabama. “That’s what I intend to do at the next level,” he added boldly.
More than anything, Johnson has bet on himself, and that bet is about to pay off — whether in New York or somewhere else.
The Jets currently have two JUCO products on the defensive side in 2021 rookie Brandin Echols and free-agent signing D.J. Reed Jr. A Johnson selection in round one would make three, solidifying the pass rusher position opposite Carl Lawson.
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Johnson’s Strengths Match Jets Needs
Bien-Aime described Johnson in his article: “The 6-foot-4 260-pound defensive end is an explosive athlete who ran a 4.58 40-yard dash at the combine. He has a variety of pass rush moves. And he’s stout against the run and would drastically help [the Jets] unit.”
NFL draft expert Lance Zierlein agreed, noting that Johnson is “more instinctive and consistent as a run defender, but his length and relentlessness are excellent building blocks for challenging protection” as a pass rusher.
That prowess on early downs cannot be discounted as Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas search for the right EDGE in this draft class. This defense was bullied by the run in 2021, and there are actually plenty of third-down pass rushers on the roster already.
At defensive end, players like Bryce Huff, Tim Ward, Bradlee Anae, Jabari Zuniga, Hamilcar Rashed Jr. and the newly acquired Jacob Martin are all better known for their ability to get to the quarterback. Outside of Lawson and the versatile John Franklin-Myers, none of the current Jets’ edge rushers hold up well against the run.
Johnson does, and he also brings a technically savvy approach to pass rushing that has gotten better and better with time. “Johnson is quick off the ball, has terrific length, a variety of rush moves, takes good angles, and relentlessly pursues the quarterback,” scouted Joe Marino of The Draft Network. “There are very few limitations with Johnson’s game and he’s a balanced defender against the run and pass with appeal in any scheme.”
Ex-Jets defensive lineman and SNY analyst Leger Douzable recently told fans that he believes the Florida State Seminole could be in play at No. 4 overall. “I’m not as high on Kayvon Thibodeaux as I am on Jermaine Johnson just because of the film that I’ve watched,” the former player informed, citing “linear quickness” and “hip stiffness” as concerns for the Oregon star.
This take has outraged many NYJ supporters as the 2022 riser wasn’t talked about in the same stratosphere as Thibodeaux a year or two ago, but history tells us that the draft can be unpredictable. “Can’t-miss” prospects fail all the time in the NFL and draft sleepers aren’t exactly uncommon.
For the Jets, the decisions at Nos. 4 and 10 could make or break their rebuild, and selecting the right pass rusher may be the most important choice of all. Hearing Johnson speak, he appears to have the mentality and work ethic that Coach Saleh is looking for, but does he have the talent to be considered a top-10 pick?
If your answer is no, just don’t tell that to the Seminole.
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When I look at JJ I see Calvin Pace. They are about the same size. Both 23 their rookie years.
Pace was a solid pro, being a starter over a 13 year career. Pace was always solid against the run, doing a great job sealing his edge, as I think JJ can do. But Pace never set the world on fire as far as pass rushing. He averaged about 6 sacks per season, and I think that’s what we can probably expect from JJ.
Pace was the 18th pick in the 2003 draft, and that’s probably about the value of JJ, but I’d be willing to take hm at 10 if Saleh is in love with his attitude.
very sound analysis, I like that comparison (can do much worse than Calvin Pace), and I had not thought of that myself! Thanks for reading.