Why the Slide?: Jermaine Johnson, DE, Florida State

This series was created in response to questions about why certain well-known prospects went unselected in NFL drafts. For these articles, I reach out to sources with NFL teams to find out why their organizations passed on drafting a given player, and/or, what were the reasons for other teams to pass on that prospect. The positive response to “Why Undrafted” and questions from readers about why prospects were drafted lower than the media expectations led us to create the parallel series “Why the Slide?”

Both series are back this year. Feel free to email me requests for Why the Slide? and Why Undrafted? at [email protected]. I can’t promise to get to all of them, but I will do my best and definitely will respond to the email.

Johnson was one of the breakout stars of the 2021 college football season, having his way with the ACC after transferring in from Georgia. He totaled 70 tackles, 11.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two passes batted for the Florida State Seminoles in 2021. Johnson then built on his senior season by putting together an excellent week of practice at the Senior Bowl and working out well at the combine. The combination of a great season, a great week in Mobile, and a strong workout caused Johnson to be projected as a top-16 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, with many forecasting Johnson in the top 10. Thus, it was surprising when Johnson slipped to the 26th pick of the first round.

In the days prior to the 2022 NFL Draft, we reported in the Hot Press that there were some makeup concerns with Johnson and some team sources even felt that Johnson’s football character was worse than Kayvon Thibodeaux. The character issue hurt Johnson with some teams, according to sources. On top of that, some sources felt Johnson was slightly overrated by the media and his pass rush was not at an elite level for translating to the NFL.

“I wasn’t a fan of the player and didn’t see him as a ‘top rusher’ personally,” said an NFC director of players personnel. “I believe his personality was a concern for a lot of people – not necessarily off-field concern, but he’s not a liked guy in the locker room.”

A different NFC director of player personnel said Johnson was viewed as a high-maintenance guy for the coaches to deal with and keep focused. Multiple sources said they thought Johnson’s skill set could make him a solid rusher, but they not see him as a high first-round talent in that regard.

The New York Jets traded up from the second round to select Johnson with the 26th pick of the 2022 NFL Draft. They were a great landing spot for Johnson. He is an excellent fit as a base end in Robert Saleh’s defense, and he will have good talent around him. With veteran edge rusher Carl Lawson on the other side and dynamic defensive tackle Quinnen Williams rushing from the inside, Johnson should see plenty of one-on-one opportunities. The Jets also have other talented defensive lineman like John Franklin-Myers to rotate and keep Johnson fresh for four quarters. While Johnson ended up going lower than probably where he hoped, he landed in a great situation to hit the ground running in the NFL.

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