Over the next few months, we’ll be breaking down every Jets rookie, including the undrafted free agents. Today we break down FSU defensive end Jermaine Johnson II, selected by the Jets with the 26th overall pick, in detail.
The 23-year old Johnson is listed at 6’5” and 262 pounds and was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2021 after having transferred from Georgia to Florida State. He led the ACC in sacks and tackles for loss.
Johnson had an unconventional route to becoming a first round pick as he was a three-star recruit out of high school, but could not play at the NCAA level due to academic eligibility issues.
In two years playing at the JUCO level at Independence Community College, Johnson racked up 12 sacks and impressed with three forced fumbles in his second season. He also got some additional exposure on the Netflix show “Last Chance U”. At the end of the year, he was able to transfer to Georgia.
In two years with Georgia, Johnson was mostly in a rotational role, although he did make four starts. In 2020, he was third on the team with five sacks in just seven games.
Johnson gambled on himself by transferring to FSU where he knew he would get more playing time due to all the talent on Georgia’s defense. He made the most of this opportunity with 70 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and 12 sacks to earn the ACC Defensive Player of the Year award.
Johnson boosted his stock with an outstanding week of practice at the Senior Bowl, although he didn’t play in the game, and also attended the scouting combine. The Jets traded a fifth round pick and swapped third rounders to move up to 26th to select him.
Now let’s take a look at what Johnson brings to the table, divided into categories.
The Jets list Johnson at 262, but he was 259 at the Senior Bowl and 254 at the combine. They will probably hope for him to add some weight to play on the line in their four-man front. Johnson also has a big wingspan with an arm length of 34 inches and an average hand size.
His workout numbers at the combine were excellent with a 4.58 in the 40-yard dash and a 125-inch broad jump putting to rest any concerns over his speed and explosiveness. His vertical was only 32 inches though and he did not do the agility drills.
At his pro day, he just did the bench press, only managing to post an adequate but uninspiring 21 reps.
Johnson has played primarily on the edge, both with his hand in the dirt and standing up. He has played on both sides, but slightly more often on the left than on the right. He’s also dropped off the line at times, mostly while he was still at Georgia.
He didn’t play inside much at Georgia, but played a snap or two there every now and again with FSU.
Johnson’s motor has been widely praised as he’s the kind of player that won’t stay blocked when rushing the passer.
He also gives good effort in pursuit and doesn’t give up on running plays either, consistently playing to the whistle.
In his two seasons with Georgia, Johnson never played 40 defensive snaps in a game, but he averaged over 60 per game at FSU so he has shown he can handle a starter’s workload.
Johnson’s pressure rates were solid not just last year, but also while he was at Georgia in a limited role.
Although he doesn’t jump off the screen as having an explosive first step and doesn’t have a reputation as someone who brings bend and flexibility coming around the corner, he does show plenty of flashes of this in some of his edge rushing highlights.
He can also be effective at driving his man back to collapse the pocket and will take advantage of his man from time to time with an powerful bull rush.
Where Johnson can improve is in the consistency of his approach. There are times when he gets stonewalled and outmuscled by a bigger player.
However, there were signs during Senior Bowl practice of how he has developed and refined his technique over the past year. One observer remarked that he was the most dominant player the Senior Bowl has seen in practice since Aaron Donald and he flashed impressive technique on a lot of his reps against decent prospects.
With all the focus on the Jets’ pass rush, some people have overlooked that the Jets’ run defense was poor last year and defensive ends who can set the edge could provide a better platform for the Jets to stop the run more effectively in 2022 and beyond.
Despite his size, Johnson anchors well against the run and is capable of driving his man back to penetrate.
He also moves well laterally and has shown that he can get downhill to keep runners in front of him.
Again, his main weakness is in his consistency of approach. He can allow his man to get outside leverage to seal him on the inside or lose the battle for pad level and get driven back while on the move. His film suggests these are things he is capable of doing right so this may be more down to lapses in concentration than an inability to consistently win in the trenches.
Johnson’s technique could be cleaned up in some respects and there were encouraging signs during Senior Bowl week that it already is being. On the basis of his film with the Seminoles his hand strikes can be violent but the accuracy of his strikes and hand placement still needs some work. He could also improve in terms of smoothly transitioning into a counter move when his initial move is repelled.
He does, however, show good technique on some of his rush moves. His footwork here is excellent as his jab step throws the blocker off balance and gives him the outside leverage advantage.
On this move, he uses his length and power to extend and get the blocker off balance so he can smoothly work off his block for the strip-sack.
In the running game, he needs to be consistent with his pad level, but has some good moves to go along with his quickness to penetrate and get into the backfield.
Johnson has some experience on the field goal rushing unit and also rushing punts. He had one penalty in his first game at Georgia for an illegal block on a punt return.
He’s seen limited action in kick coverage, recording this tackle in his first year with the Bulldogs.
Johnson’s tackle efficiency was good during his college career, as he only had seven missed tackles in three years. He did overrun the quarterback a few times in the pocket and also had this costly missed tackle on a long touchdown keeper.
He closes well in the pocket, can stop ball carriers in their tracks on running plays and hustles well in pursuit. His long arms are an asset and he can use them to wrap up or extend beyond his frame for tackles in space.
In his college career, Johnson displayed a good knack for forcing fumbles with a total of six over the past four seasons.
Johnson was barely ever asked to drop into coverage at FSU, but did bat down a couple of passes at the line and showed an ability to drop to the outside to contain the receiver on short passes.
At Georgia, he was required to drop off the line more often, gaining some valuable experience of that. He gave up a few plays in coverage though.
Scouting reports indicate that Johnson will have lapses in concentration at times. He jumped offside three times in his college career.
His play recognition against the run is generally solid and he shows an ability to read and react on short passes like this one.
Although he was academically ineligible coming out of high school, this is more likely to be an effort or maturity issue rather than an intelligence concern. He ultimately graduated college before his senior year, enabling him to transfer to FSU.
Johnson displayed his work ethic and mental toughness in bouncing back from his initial ineligibility issues to build himself back up into a first round prospect and he maintained these traits throughout his college career.
The coaches at FSU lauded the way he stepped into a leadership role after transferring, saying he was selfless and set the standard for everyone else.
His on-field discipline is good with just four defensive penalties in three years; three for offside and one for illegal hands to the face.
Johnson didn’t have any major injury issues in college but did miss three games due to a shoulder injury suffered in the 2020 season opener.
Despite his impressive Senior Bowl performance, he was limited from the first day because of an ankle issue and was kept out of the game as a precaution.
Johnson looks like he’ll be a good fit in the wide-9 system. Plenty of his most impressive reps came while lined up outside the opposing tackle and he combines pass rushing power with an ability to hold his ground in the running game.
The Jets should have good insight into this too, having coached him directly during Senior Bowl week.
Johnson is a former teammate of current Jets tight end Lawrence Cager. The pair were teammates in 2019 while at Georgia.
Johnson potentially brings the Jets the young edge rushing difference-maker they haven’t really had since John Abraham, but isn’t under pressure to produce right away because the team has John Franklin-Myers and Carl Lawson primed to start on the outside and some good alternatives on the bench in Jacob Martin and Bryce Huff.
There’s a lot to like about his film and the few areas which need to be cleaned up all seem like issues which should be fixable.
Last year, the Giants picked wide receiver Kadarius Toney and the Jets landed Elijah Moore later on, a decision which is already looking like a bad one for the Jets’ cross-town rivals. It will be entertaining if Johnson ends up being a better pick than Kayvon Thibodeaux, whom the Giants selected this year with the fifth pick. With neither being a sure thing and Johnson’s undoubted potential, this outcome is very much in play.