There has been a lot of talk about edge rushers in regards to the Jets in the first round of the NFL Draft. An edge rusher is a premium position and a limited commodity. Most of the best ones never see FA, and those who do are immensely expensive. With edge rushers you can never have too much of a good thing. The 2022 NFL Draft has a few intriguing prospects in Thibodeaux, Johnson, Hutchinson, Walker, Karlaftis, Mafe, Ojabo and even Logan Hall if a team moves him out there (it’s where I think he ends up) with everyone having their favorites. Not all these guys will work out, some will shine while others will disappoint, that’s what happens every year.
It seems a forgone conclusion that Hutchinson is going #1 overall to the Jags. It would be a wise pick. The Jaguars have a plethora of problems, but like I noted earlier, if you can draft a great edge guy you had better do it. So we will leave Hutchinson out of the debate.
I was asked to write an article by a few people on why I chose (in the annual GGN NFL draft) Jermaine Johnson over Kayvon Thibodeaux. The short and obvious answer would be to say I think he is a better prospect, which is true. I think Johnson has star written all over him and will be a monster in the NFL eventually. I was told he got most of his stats off two games (Miami and Jacksonville State) so I we will be showing only a single clip from one of those games. Let’s look at other games to see how he did. I didn’t know where his stats came from because I don’t look at stats. I look at film to find traits. I want to see traits that can turn into great abilities.
Neither prospect plays in a great Power 5 conference. If you would ask me to rate the Power 5 conferences I would put them
2) Big Ten
3) Big 12- ACC (tied)
5) Pac 12
I think Kayvon Thibodeaux is a solid prospect. He is slightly quicker than Johnson with his first step, and his game is predicated on speed and quickness. He didn’t play against a lot of great players or teams so you would think he would have been a bit more dominant. It has also been written recently that teams are put off by his less than enthusiastic love for football and his decision not to do the drills at the Combine when he initially said he would.
Daniel Jeremiah who is in touch with a few draft rooms has said that more than one team has concerns. The last things you want in a top 5 pick are concerns. So let us file that away under “rumor and smoke” for the time being and look at the tale of the tape.
Thibodeaux 6’ 4” 254 lbs 33 1/8” length, 79 1/2” wingspan
He ran 4.58/40 119” broad jump (shows explosiveness) with 27 reps on the bench
Johnson II 6’ 4 5/8” 259 lbs 34 3/8” length, 82 7/8” wingspan
He ran 4.58/40 125” broad jump with 27 reps on the bench.
So Johnson is slightly bigger with longer arms and a little more upper body strength with the identical speed of Thibodeaux.
I know 1 1/4” length advantage doesn’t sound like much, but in the NFL that is a huge difference considering the size of most of the players they are going against. Also to do the same number bench reps with longer arms shows more upper body strength. Many of the guys who do 40+ bench reps are most often offensive linemen with 32” arms and never amount to much because of the lack of length. I know there will be exceptions, but it’s the rule of thumb. It’s just hard to compete without length in the trenches or the outside.
When you watch tape on Johnson it is clearly evident that Johnson is a player who works in the confines of the defensive scheme. He doesn’t freelance. He maintains his edge first when asked. He is not a glory seeker who will only go after the sack and eschew the run. He is also relentless. He never stops which will occasionally work himself into exhaustion. He has very nice hand usage. What he did to the tackle from Miami is near criminal, but we won’t be seeing that because we are not watching Miami game film. So let’s take a look at some game footage to see what I saw that got me so hyped about Johnson. You can tell me what you think.
First up are 8 clips from the Boston College game. This is a game he didn’t do that well in. He was credited with 2 tackles (1 TFL) and an assisted tackle; that’s it.
This first clip I want you to watch the feet, body and hands. Watch how the all work in unison. Each move works because the others are also working.
(I apologize for some of these GIFs looking a little choppy, My GIF maker was having problems.)
His first full step is a jab step inside which makes the tackle hesitate for a split second because he fears Johnson is going to cross his face then beat him inside with a straight line to the QB. Watch how Johnson uses that jab step to propel himself back outside to get to the right shoulder of the big tackle. Then (all in unison) he knocks down the hands, turns on the speed, and goes right around the blocker. He grabs the QB then turns with his back to the ground and falls backward using his upper body strength along with his momentum plus his weight to bring down the QB. The QB gets off a wild pass that could have been a pick six for the defense if the DB was a step closer to his man.
This next clip is an illustration of one way to use your good length. In football the axiom is “one arm is longer than two.” Your reach with a single arm is much longer than using both your arms in blocking or tackling. Of course you can have more control with two arms, but sometime one is better. Then you have a free hand to do other things.
Obviously Johnson is in straight pass rush mode. No waiting to see if the RB is getting the ball. This is a directive from the defensive coordinator. The first step is upfield with the big tackle getting his hands up and out quickly to impede the rush. Johnson just keeps working back the tackle then he flattens out the rush once he gets to the level of the QB. He uses the one arm method (what I call a “Pole Move”) to continue to push the tackle back into the QB’s lap so he has to step up. Once he does that Johnson is now free to release the tackle then crashes down with friends to ensure the sack.
Johnson is not a huge guy, but the plays with good lean which increases his leverage which in turn increases his power. It’s not that easy to do when you are nearly 6’5”. This next clip is of the very next play after the sack.
This outcome of the play is partly because of Johnson and partly on the genius offensive coordinator calling a screen pass backed up in his own end zone. You can see Johnson come off the ball like gangbusters. Then just before he engages the tackle, he notices the QB dropping further back than normal. The tackle has set too early so Johnson just adjusts his gait in mid stride to go around the tackle instead of battle him. You can see the slight adjustment in his stride during his 4th step.
This is keeping your head up, seeing the play in front of you, and showing great athleticism adjusting on the fly in a split second to put the pressure on the QB.
As a result the ball is thrown early, and the play ends up a safety for the defense. It’s the pressure that caused the mistake, forcing players to make decisions before they want to.
On this next play Johnson is tasked with holding the edge first before he can chase the QB. Johnson is one of the few edge rushers who can do this in this class. At the next level you would have a 300+ lbs athletic tackle looking to steamroll you on a run play to the edge.
The Seminoles are in man coverage with the corner running with the receiver and the inside linebacker (#45) covering the tight end. Johnson uses his great length to “stack and shed” the tight end. He holds on to him as a reads the QB. Once the QB breaks the pocket, Johnson tosses the tight end aside then begins the chase. He doesn’t make the tackle, but the pressure doesn’t allow the pass to be thrown. This gives the backside end a chance to run down the QB from behind.
The Seminoles must have been wary of the scrambling ability of the BC QB since on this play. They deploy a QB spy plus all the rushers are staying in their lanes to avoid giving him an alley to exploit.
Johnson shows good power to walk his man back to the QB. The spy gets too far over when the QB slides to his left which leaves the other side wide open. When the end from that the opposite side misses the sack the QB is now off to the races. Johnson spent a lot of energy to stay in his lane then walks his man back. Still he runs 25 yards downfield in pursuit of the QB. That’s your right side defensive end chasing a QB on the left side downfield. It’s great hustle, but you can see he does it without thinking. He just never stops until the play is over. That is the kind of effort you want from your defensive leaders.
This next play his great length with the ability to use it correctly and in a timely manner come into play for Johnson.
Johnson is playing as a wide “9” rusher in a blitz front which causes BC to switch to max protection. When the Seminoles back out of the blitz it still leaves Johnson matched up with a tight end who he pushes right through. As he races towards the QB he sees him raise his arm to pass so instead to looking for a sack he reaches out to swipe at the ball causing a fumble on the play. Again head is up seeing what is going on then taking swift and decisive action to make a play.
Next play is similar in the fact that Johnson keeps his head up then hands, body, and feet working together to make a play in the backfield.
Johnson can see the big tackle coming towards him at the snap then immediately realizes this is a drive blocking attempt not a pass blocking type attempt. If the man wants to drive block him back the play must be coming his way. If the play was going the opposite way the tackle would retreat to make Johnson come toward him take him out of the play completely. Watch as Johnson (head up) sees the tackle dip his head so he just steps back slightly then uses a quick swim move to get into the backfield. With his huge wingspan Johnson is too wide for the running back to avoid so he is tackled easily.
This last play of the of our BC montage has Johnson being stout at the point of the attack near the goal line. Again Johnson is not a really big dude, but he is stronger than you think. He is not easily just pushed out of the way.
Johnson immediately stands up his man then tosses him aside as the play is coming through his gap. Johnson then takes on the pulling guard and stones him in the hole. Johnson isn’t pushed back which creates a mosh pit type scenario. With Johnson taking up the blockers it leaves the players on the 2nd and 3rd levels free to race over to keep the play to a no gain. This is team defense. Johnson didn’t get credit for the tackle but he made the play so others could clean it up.
So if you go by the stats Johnson had a poor game, but there is more to playing football than stats. Smart, unselfish football is how you win as a team.
This next play against Wake is the perfect example of a player doing a job well but receiving no credit for it on the stat sheet.
This is a straight running play off a read option look. Johnson’s job is to hold the edge. Don’t let the runner get outside where he can outrun people. Inside there is lots of help so the idea is to not let him escape. At the snap Johnson engages the big tackle who is trying to drive him off the ball. Instead Johnson stands him up. From low to high, he intentionally gets low then shoots his hands upward to take the leverage advantage. While he is doing this he is moving towards the line of scrimmage so he is in the direct line of a runner if he tries to escape around the edge.
You can clearly see how Johnson (and that great length) can hold off the big tackle and protect the edge by allowing no escape route. With the running back bottled up he is eventually taken down by the backside end who is untouched. The play is not designed to block him since the running back should be able to outrace him around the end. That play didn’t work because the end wasn’t clear.
This next play the Seminoles are using the same type defensive scheme with Johnson on the opposite side going against Zach Tom who is a technically sound blocker.
You can see Johnson doing his job but this play is not an end sweep. This play is an inside wham play with good blocking and a hammer of a lead blocker coming through the hole. Once Johnson sees the play is not coming his way he is quick enough to disengage from his man then make the tackle from the side.
This next play (which is well designed) is like a jet sweep except the player goes in motion then is already outside when he is thrown the ball. It’s like having a bubble screen on the move with your three receivers to that side as blockers.
That is your 260 lbs defensive edge player running down a fast little wide receiver in the flat. You can see Johnson doesn’t run like a defensive lineman. He looks like a rangy inside linebacker with sideline to sideline speed. In fact he is faster than most inside linebackers.
This next play is a read option with the play action looking to go outside. The play is designed to make the edge player on Johnson’s side to widen out to open the hole for the runner. You have to be in the right spot as a defender if you expect to make a play. Part of that is intelligence, and part of that is intuition. Fortunately Johnson has both.
The reason Johnson didn’t widen out is he kept his head up and right on the play. He could see RB Kyren Williams get the ball so Johnson just slip over then stoned him in the hole. Williams is not that big (5’ 9” 199 lbs) but he is built like a torpedo. You can see that Johnson was up to the challenge as Williams is dropped to the ground exactly where he was hit. It’s nice to have a defensive edge player who can chase down a play plus be stout at the point of attack.
Johnson also isn’t given enough credit for being quick but he can play inside on the A or B gap occasionally and do just fine. You don’t want him playing there a lot because he will get beat up over time giving up 60 lbs to linemen. Here he is in the A gap against Notre Dame and doing just fine.
The key to Johnson being successful inside is to be quick off the snap and play a half man game with the lineman. Johnson doesn’t have the mass or strength to mix it up so he gets off fast at the snap then picks a side to work on. Once he can get the the shoulder of the behemoth he can pitchfork his way around him with his length. Here he gets around 6’6” 305 lbs opponent, slides into the hole then drops him where he is hit.
This next clip is a great example of turning speed into power from the edge. With a one back set in the pistol formation once the QB gets the snap and drops behind the RB Johnson knows it’s a pass play.
Watch as Johnson spies the QB. As soon as he is past the RB he pours on the speed then rocks the tackle backward. He is taller than the tackle, but he still is able to get lower then power upward to take the leverage away from the smaller man. This is just real good technique. He does it without thinking. It just comes natural to Johnson. He drives the tackle back actually into the QB then they all eventually fall down as the tackle has two full fists of Johnson’s jersey as he holds on. Watch the leg drive after he makes contact, powerfully pushing the heavier player back with relative ease.
So you want a speed rusher? Well Johnson can do that too. You don’t see it that much because the Seminoles use Johnson as an edge protector a lot instead of as an edge rusher. Johnson would have had a lot more stats with crooked numbers if the DC would have let him play without restrictions.
This your basic speed rush. Again watch the feet, hands, and body all work in perfect unison. Get to the edge, knock the hands down with a powerful swipe then it’s off to the races then make a swift and sure tackle; no escape.
How about some pass rush moves. Let’s see something that is not purely physical he can use on Sundays against NFL tackles. This game changing play against Clemson is called a push-pull move and it works just like it sounds.
This is a quick move. As Johnson comes off the line he was able to split his opponents hands and get to his chest. It’s something a tackle should never let an opponent do. Once he gets to his chest he simply pushes him back then as he is moving that way he grabs a handful of jersey then pulls him towards himself. The action (Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.) actually thrusts himself towards the QB in a slingshot fashion. Once Johnson gets there he sees the ball, knocks it away, and he is off to the races and a TD.
This last clip is just a speed/power rush that overwhelms the offensive tackle. Johnson is adept at playing either side of the line. He was asked to always play on the wide side of the line because he protects the edge so well. Here he gets the sack despite being held.
I don’t know what more someone could want from an edge defender. He is scheme diverse. He can play in a 3 or 4 man line or possibly as a OLB although I have not seen him in coverage. You want a man like this as an edge threat. It’s a passing league, and a QB laying on his back is not going to be hurting you.
Johnson is a smart, powerful, relentless seeker of the offensive backfield with superior length. He has incredible power for his size without a thick and powerful lower body. He pushes his way though much larger defenders often.
He also is quicker than he looks. Hee has the ability to simply run around tackles if they don’t respect his speed and play only his power.
His length allows him to stand up blocker or use a “pole move” that reduces the leverage of the blocker. He has underrated flexibility that allows him to rush the edge. He is not a “bendy” edge rusher but can control his body enough to get around some tackles.
He can hold the edge from the largest tackle with strength, power or quickness.
He is basically an attacker, always on the prowl, making plays, he never gives up and he will always pursue, he will never stop until the whistle.
He is a leverage user, often lifting pads of lineman to gain an advantage. He can stack and shed on the edge, holding his position in run plays then ditching the blocker once the runner or QB makes his rushing move.
He has superior agility for his size which allows him to disengage from blocks then make tackles on runners. He is an ascending talent who only got his chance to start once he left Georgia. Once he had the opportunity he was the Defensive Player of the Tear in the ACC. He has speed to make plays on the run. He is a defender who can hold an edge but the adjust to a edge rusher instantly.
He was playing primarily by himself at FSU. He had no great player playing anywhere near him to take away double teams. All the clips I just showed you came from just a few games and all this year. He was on Georgia last year. So this is not some career long group of clips. I didn’t even show you clips from half the games.
I think a lot of people have heard about Kayvon Thibodeaux for the last few years so they naturally assume he is the best player at the position. Like I said I like Thibodeaux. He has talent, but I think Johnson is better now and will be the better pro. None of the talking heads on TV would put their reputation on the line for Johnson. They use cliches like, “He has a full toolbox,” or, “His best days are ahead of him.” That way if he does show that he is the better player they can say, “They saw that coming.”
The Jets saw him dominate at the Senior Bowl so they had first hand knowledge of Johnsons capabilities, speed, power, quickness, length, height, intelligence, relentlessness, and great character plus a team first mantra. would not be surprised to think that Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh think the same way I do about Johnson.
As you saw on various clips Johnson was often tasked with holding the edge first in the defensive scheme. Once the run was eschewed he was free to rush the passer, which he did on many occasions. This is where some “stats” can be misleading. If you rush the passer from snap you have a much better chance of causing a pressure than if you have to wait to ensure your edge is not threatened. Many of these companies who provide stats use people with no clue of what defense a team is playing. They see a guy attempt a pass rush and count it as so. This is why most teams don’t look at those stats. They don’t trust the process so they can’t trust the stat. Plus the human element where what counts as a “pressure” can vary from one to another or another company. Plus humans tend to have favorites which can cause under or over reporting depending on the person-player.
This is one of many reasons I don’t look at stats before I watch tape. I don’t want to be influenced in anyway whatsoever. I try to watch a player without expectations like I have never heard of him before. Depending on the position I look for certain skills or traits. I have a certain criteria I use on each position. I am sure my base criteria will differ from pro scouts. In fact I know they do. That’s why in some ways I believe I have an advantage on pro scouts because they all learned from a similar playbook. I made my own playbook myself through trial and error. It serves me well, and I believe I’ve done well with it.
Johnson is not a finished product. He is only a single year starter. He should thrive once he gets some NFL coaching. He looked great in film from last year at Georgia in a part-time role. He has all the tools you need to win in the NFL. That’s what you look for. What he doesn’t know he can be taught. That’s why teams have position coaches. Every player who is drafted needs to develop to make it in the NFL. Johnson is smart, has great character and loves the game. He shas all the talent in the world, and he plays all out all the time. He is truly relentless.
Like I said, what more do you want?