Jets Relied on ‘Good Friends’ to Make Polarizing 1st-Round Pick

Jermaine Johnson II

Getty New York Jets defensive end Jermaine Johnson II during a two-year stint at Georgia.

In case you’re unfamiliar with New York Jets rookie Jermaine Johnson II’s story, the former junior college prospect received his first division one opportunity with Georgia, only it didn’t work out as planned.

The pass rusher appeared in 16 games with the Bulldogs and was by no means bad, but also wasn’t the dominant edge defender that turned into a first-round draft pick out of Florida State. In total, Johnson accumulated 6.5 sacks and seven tackles for a loss during the two seasons, with 36 tackles and one forced fumble.

As a Seminole, Johnson’s stats exploded off the page with 11.5 sacks, 17.5 tackles for a loss (70 total tackles), and two forced fumbles. The major differences were playing time and conference, and the latter worried many potential NFL suitors.

This made Johnson quite the polarizing prospect. While some predicted he’d be drafted top 10, or even top five in some rare cases, others had him going toward the bottom of round one. In the end, that’s where he ended up being selected when an ecstatic Jets staff was confident enough to trade up for him at No. 26 overall.

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Ulbrich Reveals Georgia Ties Led to Johnson Pursuit

We already knew that a terrific team visit contributed to the Jets falling in love with the Seminole — and vice versa — but what we didn’t realize was that defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich eased any Johnson concerns early in the draft process.

During a press conference on June 1, the Jets DC explained the “interesting” discussions that needed to occur before Johnson was ever drafted. He stated:

I’m fortunate to have some good friends on the Georgia staff that really gave me some insight [because] you always — I think you think twice when a guy leaves a program like Georgia that’s just so amazing and it’s just top-notch coaching and facilities and all the things. Like, why would you leave? That goes to another space especially when you win a national championship but when you really talk to the guys at Georgia and you ask them, they would all have [Johnson] over again, they would all have recruited him again, they loved their experience with him.

“Here’s a guy that bet on himself,” Ulbrich continued. “He went to Florida State because he wanted to play a little bit different brand of football and he put that on full display.”

Ulbrich concluded that he was “comfortable with the makeup of the man” when determining if Johnson was a potential fit for this Jets defense. It turns out that he was — head coach Robert Saleh even admitted that Gang Green was willing to select him at No. 10 if wide receiver Garrett Wilson had been off the board.

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Johnson Is ‘Ahead of Most’ at OTAs

Depending on which version of Johnson the Jets get at the NFL level, many organizations could end up regretting their decision to pass on the disruptor.

Johnson’s other scouting shortcoming was his age. The pass rusher is already 23 and turns 24 in January, while some fellow rookies are just hitting 21. Of course, there are some positives that come with drafting an older prospect, the main one being game readiness.

Ulbrich touted Johnson in this regard: “Most guys, they are so behind when they get here. To me, [Johnson] is a little ahead of most… A demonstration of his obsession [with] the game is he’s like the YouTuber that’s constantly watching Lawrence Taylor, he constantly watching Von Miller. He’s constantly watching all these guys and adding to his game.”

Sounds like “film junkie” Zach Wilson has some competition. It wouldn’t be a total shock if Johnson became an impact performer in year one. After all, he’s got the mindset of a veteran.

“His knowledge of the game is probably a little bit better than most rookies,” the Jets DC complimented. “His pass rush arsenal is maybe a little bit better than most rookies. And then you put that together with a guy that [has] length and speed and explosion and desire and a good makeup, and you got a guy that’s got a chance. So [I’m] excited about him.”

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