Eagles Prospect Profile: Jermaine Johnson II

If there’s one position every Eagles fan wants their team to address during this year’s NFL Draft, it’s defensive end. Despite adding Haason Reddick and bringing Derek Barnett back, Jonathan Gannon’s defense could still use some pass rushing help.

The Eagles were one of the worst teams at generating sacks last season, finishing the year with just 29 total, which ranked 31st in the entire NFL. The additions Howie Roseman has made thus far should help, along with the return of Brandon Graham from injury, but there’s still work to be done.

This year’s edge rusher class is as deep as any in recent history. At the end of the first-round, there could be as many as 6-7 pass rushers off the board, and a handful of them will be within the top-10 picks. Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson II is one of several edge defenders who will likely get their name called on April 28.

The Florida State pass rusher put up serious production during his final year with the Seminoles and followed it up with impressive performances at the Senior Bowl and scouting combine. Since then, his stock has risen significantly, with some scouts projecting Johnson as a top-10 pick. However, Johnson being available when the Eagles are on the clock isn’t out of the question.

If Johnson does find his way to Philly, what should fans expect out of him? Let’s take a look at his strengths and weaknesses to diagnose how Johnson may fit in Gannon’s defensive scheme.

The Strengths

Looking at Johnson’s game, it becomes clear pretty quickly that he doesn’t have many glaring flaws. He’s above average to good at everything you want out of a defensive, which can actually be a double-edged sword for some scouts (more on that later).

In his final year at Florida State, the 6-foot-5, 254 pounds edge rusher recorded 11.5 sacks, 17.5 tackles for loss, along with 70 total tackles. He produced at least one sack in nine of his 12 outings in 2021. Per Pro Football Focus, Johnson was the only defensive end in a Power Five conference who ranked inside the top-15 in run stops and negatively graded play rate. He finished the year with a run-defense and pass-rush PFF grade north of 75.0, the only ACC defensive end to do so in 2021.

Johnson is arguably the best edge setter in this year’s class, both against the run and pass. He understands the importance of using leverage against offensive tackles.

One of Johnson’s best games from 2021 came against another highly touted NFL Draft prospect, offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu of North Carolina State. Johnson finished that contest with one sack, one tackle for loss, and six combined tackles. He put Ekwonu in a blender for most of the day, displaying his arsenal of pass rushing moves while also using his natural speed and quickness to set the edge against the run.

While there are a handful of pass rushing specialists in this year’s draft class, Johnson brings more of a complete game to the table. The sack production is still there, but Johnson can be a three-down player from day one because of his run stopping ability.

He has shades of both Derek Barnett and Brandon Graham in his game. Johnson plays with the motor of Barnett and has the edge setting ability of prime BG. There’s a lot to like with Johnson’s game, though he won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, mostly because his ceiling isn’t necessarily as high as someone like David Ojabo or even George Karlaftis.

Nevertheless, Johnson would be a fine addition to the Eagles pass rushing group. He’s developed in pretty much every area of his game, which should make his transition to the NFL as seamless as possible.

The Weaknesses

Because Johnson is already stout at a handful of different things at the defensive end position, some scouts project him as a high floor prospect. He’ll be solid from day one, and maybe he’ll even be the most productive defensive end from this year’s class from day one. But in 2-3 years, there probably won’t be a noticeable growth in Johnson’s game, whereas nearly every other pass rusher in this year’s class has a very high ceiling.

While Johnson’s ability to play every down from day one is arguably his biggest strength, it can also be viewed as a bit of a negative because scouts assume he’s already a finished product. It’s a bit strange that it works that way, but the NFL Draft is all about potential.

Aside from that, there are a few weak points worth noting with Johnson. His hands could be more active. Unless he wins on initial contact, it typically takes Johnson a little too long to seperate from offensive lineman. Secondly, Johnson isn’t an elite athlete by NFL standards, which also factors into why scouts view him as a high floor/low ceiling type of prospect.

The Verdict

Despite some of Johnson’s shortcomings as an pure athlete, he still deserves to be selected in the first-round. The top-10 hype may a bit overzealous, but he has all the tools to be a productive day one starter in this league.

If that’s what the Eagles are looking for — someone who can set the edge against the run and play a lot of the snaps on early downs — Johnson would make a lot of sense. There’s still a lot of value in having defensive ends who can stop the run at a high rate, it’s just not as flashy as putting up 10+ sacks per season and it won’t lead to much recognition from around the league (i.e. Brandon Graham throughout most of his career).

In terms of what the Eagles really need right now, Johnson may not be the perfect defensive end prospect to go with. Getting after the quarterback is the name of the game in today’s NFL and the Eagles were awful at it last season. Johnson’s pass rushing ability may translate to NFL production, but he’s just not going to be a 10-15 sack per year guy.

Eagles fans shouldn’t be upset if Johnson ends up being the pick at 15, but I wouldn’t blame them if they didn’t get overly excited about it.

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