CLEMSON, SOUTH CAROLINA - OCTOBER 30: Defensive end Jermaine Johnson II #11 of the Florida State Seminoles scores a defensive touchdown while eluding offensive lineman Walker Parks #64 of the Clemson Tigers during the fourth quarter during their game at Clemson Memorial Stadium on October 30, 2021 in Clemson, South Carolina.

 By Dylan MacKinnon

The Eagles’ pass rush was bad last year. Especially from the edge. Take Josh Sweat out of the equation, the other DEs got 3 sacks. Even now that they added Haason Reddick, they could still use help at DE. In comes Jermaine Johnson. He’s big, fairly fast, and a Senior Bowl standout. The story of how he came to be a probable first-round pick is fascinating. His coaches credit him for stepping into a leadership role. He is exactly the type of player Howie Roseman covets. But is Midnight-Green in the future of this Seminole? Let’s take a look at Jermaine Johnson.

Big, Fast, and Strong

Jermaine Johnson is 6’5″, 254lbs, and ran a 4.58 40. Imagine being a QB, and seeing someone that big barreling towards you like a freight train. It took a while, but all his traits finally came together this year. Johnson had 12 sacks and 41 defensive pressures. Both those numbers would lead the Eagles, and he did that in 12 games, granted vs College O Linemen. He also forced two fumbles, had 17.5 tackles for a loss, deflected two passes, and scored a TD. Those numbers were good enough to earn him ACC Defensive Player of the Year, and a spot on the All-American team. Not bad for a guy in his first year as a starter.

Where he really excels, is as a run stopper. If you go back to watch some Florida State tape, you will see the number 11 around the ball a lot. Jermaine Johnson seems to consistently be involved in run plays. Even if he is not the one making the tackle, he is chasing out an RB into the arms of another defender. His instincts, and consistent effort, make him a reliable force in defending the run. There is a reason he racked up 70 tackles in 12 games. He has the motor to fight through blocks, and make the second effort plays. Johnson should be ready to step right in and immediately make an impact as a run stopper.

“People look through his career, there at his last institution, you saw the pass-rush ability, you saw the impact that he can make. The thing I’ve been most pleased with is his commitment in the run game, how hard he’s practiced, the physicality he’s shown.”- Mike Norvell- FSU Head Coach

In terms of Pass Rush, he has a ton of potential. He may not be a 12 sack guy like he was this year right away, but he can get there. Similar to defending the run, it is his effort that results in extra production. There were times where it looked like he was blocked up, but kept pressing and eventually made a sack. He has a nice collection of pass rush moves. Spin moves, hand swipes, bull rushes. He has many different ways to beat his blocker, which should make it much easier to transition to the NFL. There is no one good way to block him.

Obstacles Turned Him Into a Leader

Jermaine Johnson did not have the typical path to being a first round pick. He came out of High School as just a two-star prospect. Johnson was academically ineligible to be drafted, so instead he enrolled at a JUCO School, Independence Community College in Kansas. He had a very prolific career there. The school was featured on the Netflix Show “Last Chance U,” and he thrived in that spotlight. He racked up 12.5 sacks and forced 4 fumbles. That performance, was good enough for him to get offers to transfer to premier programs. He chose Georgia.

But at Georgia he faced obstacles again. He was playing out of position, and was not getting as many reps as he wanted. In two seasons for Georgia he had just 6 sacks and 16 hurries. The lack of playing time, and not be allowed to play DE like he wanted to, led to him betting on himself and transferring to FSU. And boy did it pay off. Not only did FSU give him the opportunity he wanted, he ran away with it. And more than just being productive, he stepped into a leadership role.

“He understood the expectation and that’s something I appreciated. From the first meeting we had, he gathered the defensive line and told them this wasn’t going to be about him. It was about us. It was about what we’re trying to do and the responsibility he held to the guys he lined up beside. And he’s had to live that out. Jermaine has earned the opportunity.”- Mike Norvell 

Jermaine Johnson has had to work hard to get where he is. Nothing came easy for him. Johnson worked twice as hard to get where he wanted to be And his team mates recognize that.

“It’s just his work ethic, you know, I mean he’s a first (in) guy and last (out) guy type of dude for sure. He embodies that mentality just as being a professional before the pro and really took charge of the defense in Kansas, man, and the way he played, it speaks for itself.”- McKenzie Milton, FSU QB

Things to Improve

One of the first concerns teams will have with him is that he is only a one year starter. He was a middling player in a small role at Georgia, and its hard to take his JUCO performance and project it to the NFL. So all you have to go off is his play at FSU. And while that is very good play, the fact its only one year will make some uneasy.

For more specific concerns, he is not a perfect player. He needs to be more consistent when wrapping up tackles. Johnson occasionally tries to use his size to crush ball carriers, but he’d be better off wrapping up and making solid tackles instead of crushing hits. He occasionally over pursues, and finds himself out of position. While he has the ability for great pass rush moves, and we have seen him flash those, there is a lack of consistency. He needs time to grow into the defensive end role. It is very clearly where he belongs, but he is still new to it.

As I said earlier, he will probably come in as an effective run stopper, but will need time to be a great pass rusher.

What Experts Say

Lance Zierlein- NFL Network

“Ascending edge prospect. Johnson has NFL traits and the potential to keep getting bigger and better as a pro. He is a one-year full-time starter with an underdeveloped pass rush and occasional lapses in awareness, but both areas should be correctable with more coaching and game experience. He’s more instinctive and consistent as a run defender, but his length and relentlessness are excellent building blocks for challenging protection. Johnson’s blend of strength and athleticism should make him a firm edge-setter and playmaker near the line of scrimmage for odd or even fronts. He has the traits, athleticism and talent to project as a top-40 pick with a bright future.”

Jordan Reid- ESPN

Conclusion

Johnson has big potential, but whatever team gets him needs to be patient. If you are looking for a guy to step in and immediately be a double digit sack guy, it may not be Jermaine Johnson you want. But he could eventually get there. Johnson will immediately help the Eagles run defense. He is very much so a Howie Roseman type player.

The addition of Reddick, perhaps make a pick like Johnson more likely. Eagles wont need to rely on a drafted DE to immediately produce as a pass rusher anymore. Johnson would have time to grow into that role.