It’s combine week in the NFL. For the next six days, 324 of the nation’s best prospects will showcase their strength and athleticism in hopes of raising their stock ahead of the draft in April. The Green Bay Packers, currently navigating one of the league’s biggest cap crunches, hold the 28th pick of the first round and are likely to have a few more needs than their roster currently suggests. EDGE is thought to be one need that will surface, as the Smith bros are suspected to be cap causalities in the next couple of weeks, leaving Rashan Gary as the team’s featured pass-rusher. In light of that, Matt LaFleur, Brian Gutekunst, and many Packers fans will be watching every QB-attacker this week, and one rusher, in particular, might catch their eye. This is Packers Scouting Combine watch: Jermaine Johnson II.
Fans of Last Chance U will recognize Johnson II, as he was the number one JUCO recruit in the 2017 class. The linebacker opted to attend Independence Community College, a rural school of 1,600 students in Independence, Kansas, in hopes of gaining some interest at the D-1 level.
Johnson II lived up to his top-recruit status during his two years with the program, totalling 12.5 sacks, 96 tackles, and 11 tackles for loss in 20 games, before moving to the SEC and the University of Georgia.
The Eden Prairie, Minnesota native continued to produce in a limited role across two seasons with the power-five school, notching 6.5 sacks, 36 tackles, and eight tackles for loss in 21 games.
Following the 2020 season, Johnson II decided he wanted to showcase his skills in a featured role — something he couldn’t establish at Georgia. He transferred to Florida State University for his senior year and shined in a crucial role for the ACC program.
In 12 games, he accumulated 70 tackles, 12 sacks and 18 tackles for loss — both of which led the ACC — en route to ACC defensive player of the year honours (the first player in ACC history to earn defensive or offensive Player of the Year in his first season with an ACC program), a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award, and first-team all ACC.
Once a two-star NCAA recruit, Johnson II shot his way up draft boards.
He’s now thought to be a sure-fire first-round pick this year.
Johnson II enters the draft as a 23-year-old redshirt-senior, one of the older prospects in this class.
He sports a long frame, standing 6’5” and tipping the scales at 265lbs.
Watching Johnson II, the first thing that stands out is his explosiveness and his power. He gets out of the blocks fast and will thump whoever has the ball (fast forward to 6:05 to see both traits in action versus North Carolina this season).
His build, technique, and strength allow him to set the edge consistently. He’s proved to be one of the more balanced defenders in this draft, hanging his hat on run support.
Johnson II showcased his strength when taking on run-blocking guards with relative ease at many points during the season. It’s rare to see him get pushed backward.
Instincts are also on display when watching his tape. His ability to diagnose a run, a swing pass to a running back, or not bite on a play-fake or a trick play is prevalent on tape. His age shines through the film as he’s an extremely mature player.
Scouts will love watching his tape because — to quote Daniel Jerimiah — “he plays like his hair is on fire.” Urgency is a key trait in today’s NFL and Johnson II has it, plain and simple.
However, despite his sack production, I think Johnson II’s concerns come as a pass rusher. He’s quick out of his stance but struggles to bend around the edge at times. His best tool is his hands, swatting away opposing tackles’ efforts to latch onto him. One move he tries periodically is the patented Aaron Donald jump-and-swat at the blockers’ hands.
But I didn’t see many moves in his rush-arsenal and I think that will be a point of emphasis in his development for whichever team selects him.
Overall, Johnson II’s tape is fairly impressive. His long frame, explosiveness, attention to technique, run integrity, and instincts blend to create what could be a dominant edge rusher at the next level.
My player comp. is Preston Smith.
Starting with the build, Smith also checks in at 6’5” 265lbs. It’s easy to see Johnson II carries the weight better, though. Johnson II is a better athlete than Smith but his stout run defense and overall play style are eerily reminiscent of Smith’s.
The problem for Packers fans who fall in love with Johnson II is that he could test very well at this week’s combine.
He can really move, and if he runs in the low to mid 4.5s, teams could drool over him. He also could jump out of the gym, too, in the broad jump and vertical jump drills.
Johnson II plays a mature game and could become an important contributor as a rookie like Eric Stokes was last season if he falls to the Packers in April.
He checks off a lot of boxes and would fill a presumptive need for the reigning NFC North champs. Cheeseheads should be sure to keep an eye out for Johnson II this week.——————
Joshua Frey-Sam is a journalism student and aspiring sportscaster hailing from Winnipeg, Canada. A Packers fan since 2005, Josh has worked to master the financial and scouting aspect of the NFL over the past few years. Josh remains a firm believer that Dez did not, in fact, catch the ball. You can follow him on twitter at @jfreysam.