We know Jermaine Johnson is stylish, considering his lustrous yellow-and-black sports coat that he made look good at the 2022 NFL Draft in Las Vegas. But style points didn't convince the Jets to trade up into the first round Thursday night; his single season "in the right place" at Florida State last season did that, as did the Jets staff coaching against him in this year's Senior Bowl.
Voila! The Green & White traded up with the Titans to go and get a player they didn't think would be there. Here are four vignettes from Johnson's star trek from Minnesota youth football to the Jets.
Long and Winding Road
Johnson took the long road to his first-round status as a member of the Green & White. Attending Eden Prairie (MN) High School, he messed up his Division I football plans with bad grades — and he knew it. "I didn't handle what I was supposed to," he said. "It was just bad grades and making bad decisions."
But the decision he made for his first college was smart, and even made him a minor streaming star in the process. He enrolled at Independence CC in southeastern Kansas, where he was featured in the fourth season of the Netflix series "Last Chance U."
Johnson parlayed his 12.5 sacks over two seasons and his pass-rush skills with the Pirates into his rating as the No. 1 JuCo recruit in 2019. He received offers from Oregon, Texas and Southern Cal, committed to Georgia, then after two years entered the transfer portal and signed with Florida State.
Johnson at the Combine said: "I wouldn't be the man or player I am today without my journey."
Florida State Whirlwind
The FSU move was the classic bet-on-yourself pigskin ploy. In his one season as a Seminoles starter last year, he lit it up with 12.0 sacks, sixth-most in FBS, and an ACC-leading 18.0 tackles for loss. Then he put up some impressive numbers at the NFL Combine — his 4.58 seconds in the 40 was tied for the fourth-fastest time by a defensive end and his 10-5 broad jump was tied for second-longest among DEs.
In between, he participated in the Senior Bowl practices, and although he had to leave early and didn't play in the game, one observer said, "I haven't seen a player dominate here like Johnson did since Aaron Donald in 2014." The Jets' staff, of course, coached the National team in the Senior Bowl and got to see Johnson on the American side's defense up close and personal.
Part of Johnson's draft story comes from the Jets' perspective. After his predraft offseason, he was being viewed as a top-half-of-Round-1 pick, even a top-10 selection. A few analysts even projected him a week ago to go to the Jets at No. 4.
But he slipped down the NFL's first-round board. And the Green & White, with their next picks at 35 and 38 in Round 2, were lying in wait.
"We hoped there would be something screwy like that that happened that maybe we could have an opportunity to attack, and we did," Douglas said. "A really good player fell for a short amount of time."
It's a bit arbitrary but still interesting that while the Jets have traded up to make first-round trades before, Thursday's trade with Tennessee was only the second time in franchise draft history that they executed an all-draft-picks deal to climb up from a lower round into Round 1. The only previous time was 2008, when they dealt with Green Bay to go from 36th overall to 30th and grabbed TE Dustin Keller.
The tradeup also gave the Jets their first three-picks first round since 2000, when they had four, at 12, 13, 18 and 27, and converted them into Shaun Ellis, John Abraham, Chad Pennington and Anthony Becht in the "Four Aces" draft.
Quite a Combination
The Jets went up for Johnson because he was that rare blend of team player and supremely confident edge playmaker that Douglas and HC Robert Saleh were seeking.
"I've always had confidence in myself — you kind of have to, going the path I did," he has said. "But I'm a team-first guy and I have strong faith in myself as well as God."
And how does his faith in himself translate? He has said he admires the play of pass rushers Myles Garrett and Kahlil Mack as well as Donald. "People fear them, and that's what I want to be at the next level. I wanted to be feared," he said, adding of his college career, "I just needed to be in the right place, being played and actually being able to be the Jermaine Johnson I know I am for a team."
He's found his team and his team has found him. The JJII journey continues.