Rookie edge rusher Jermaine Johnson has two words for Jets fans: "Get ready."
"My mindset is violence," Johnson, taken at No. 26 overall last week in the 2020 NFL Draft after the Jets traded back into the first round to nab the Florida State star. "There's no pretty boy work in the trenches. It's fun to sack the quarterback, but first and second down are primarily runs, so you have to earn the right to rush the passer. You have to be violent."
Johnson (6-4, 254) played at three schools in five seasons, wrapping up at Florida State in 2021. He was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, leading the conference with 12 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss to go with 2 forced fumbles and 2 pass defenses. He also racked up 70 total tackles (33 solo).
Johnson, who is from Eden Prairie, MN, began his college career at Independence Community College and was featured on the Netflix series "Last Chance U" before moving on from junior college to Georgia and later to FSU. Johnson, who said his family's nickname for him is simply "Main," said he still has not watched the series, in which he and his teammates all contributed unscripted roles.
In two seasons with the Bulldogs, he had 36 tackles, 6.5 sacks and 1 pass defense in 24 games (4 starts). He was a part of a rotation in Georgia and averaged 27 snaps per game in 2020 compared to 61.3 with FSU in 2021. As enamored as he was, and is, or Georgia and the city of Athens, Johnson felt that he needed a new stage to elevate his game, and he found it in Tallahassee, where the Seminoles play a defensive system that is similar to the Jets.
"Obviously, he left Georgia because he wanted to get a little bit more playing time and showcase to the world what he's capable of," HC Robert Saleh said. "He went to a front that's similar to ours in that they allow him to just get off the ball and go rush the passer. He's probably the most refined in terms of being able to rush the passer out of this class. He's big. He's long. He's physical. He's fast. He's athletic. In our front, he's got all the tools and the mental makeup to be able to do exactly what we're gonna ask him to do. With Carl [Lawson] coming back [from an Achilles tendon rupture] and allowing JFM [John Franklin-Myers] to rush inside more, along with Quinnen [Williams] and Sheldon [Rankins], and getting Solomon [Thomas], it's shaping up to be a pretty cool defensive line room."
Johnson became the highest defensive player that GM Joe Douglas has drafted in his tenure with the Jets. And the story of how the Jets ended up chasing Johnson is quickly becoming stuff of legend. After taking WR Garrett Wilson at No. 10, the Jets didn't have their next pick until No. 35, at the start of Day 2 of the draft. That's when Douglas, with Johnson still on the board, hit the phones, beginning at No. 15 and finally hitting on a deal partner at No. 26. The Jets sent picks No. 35, 69 and 163 to the Titans for No. 26 and 101 (which eventually ended up being tight end Jeremy Ruckert).
"Teams have different needs, different boards, different rankings," Douglas said. "I felt like going into this draft, you could ask 31 other teams how they ranked wideouts, tackles, corners, at every position and there would be a different ranking. We hoped that there would be something screwy like that, that happened, that maybe we could have an opportunity to attack and it did. A really good player fell for a short amount of time."
On his pre-draft visit to the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center, Johnson felt a genuine sense of belonging and family. From the second he walked through the doors at One Jets Drive, he said he felt like he was home.
"As soon as I walked in, there was a family feel, I felt like part of the roster already," Johnson said. "They didn't fail to let me know how much I mattered to them. Anybody who can do that for me, I wouldn't mind playing for them and giving my all. The organization getting me at 26 after trying and trying ... when someone wants you that bad, I just can't wait to give my all to this organization."
He has already touched base with Lawson, who signed in free agency with the Jets last year before sustaining a season-ending Achilles tendon injury in the preseason.
"I talked to Carl and told him how excited I am to get to work," Johnson said. "And he's available. It speaks to who he is and how everyone speaks about him. That's all I need to know. What people say about you when you're not around is what's important and I'm blessed and excited to learn under a guy like that. I'm blessed to be in a room like that, with these players and these coaches."
Johnson, who joins an impressive front that also includes the versatile John Franklin-Myers, said that he's prepared to show his teammates and Jets Nation why he's an elite pass rusher.
"Elite rush, get off fast, have a plan and supreme confidence," he said. "You're not going to win every rep, but you have to keep going and keep going. I go to every football field believing I'm the best player on the field. You have to have that elite plan and confidence."