Analyzing New York Jets edge rusher Jermaine Johnson’s strengths and weaknesses
In the eyes of nearly every New York Jets fan, the team’s 2022 NFL draft went from great to spectacular when general manager Joe Douglas traded up to rescue the free-falling Jermaine Johnson with the 26th overall pick. The ACC’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Johnson comes out of Florida State oozing with potential.
Johnson was one of the most polarizing edge rusher prospects in the draft. Some analysts saw the 23-year-old as the best player at his position and a top-10 overall prospect. Some saw him as the position’s No. 4 or No. 5 prospect and no better than a low-first-round prospect.
As it turns out, Johnson was just as polarizing amongst NFL teams as he was amongst draftniks.
Thanks to Jerry Jones’ revelation of the Dallas Cowboys’ draft board during a press conference, we know that Johnson was the Cowboys’ No. 28 overall player. That ranking wasn’t far-fetched as Johnson ended up being taken at No. 26. Meanwhile, Joe Douglas claims the Jets had Johnson as a top-eight player on their board.
When you dig into Johnson’s statistical resume, it becomes clear why he draws such a wide range of opinions. There are some areas where he is absolutely fantastic. However, there are also some numbers in his profile that are a cause for concern – including one very important metric.
How you feel about Johnson all just depends on what aspects of the EDGE position you value most.
Let’s dig into every aspect of Johnson’s player profile from a statistical standpoint. We’ll start with his biggest red flag before proceeding to some of his exciting strengths. Finally, we will close out with a look at how he was utilized in Florida State’s defense.
Jermaine Johnson’s key red flag: His pass-rush win rate
While Johnson’s box-score statistics are extremely impressive (more on that later), the advanced stats are not fond of his consistency as a pass-rusher.
Pass-rush win rate is a metric that evaluates how often a defender defeats his blocker. It’s a useful tool for evaluating a player independent of his surroundings.
While the stars must align for a player to be able to turn his win into a sack, there is very little stopping him from beating the man in front of him on any given play, even if circumstances beyond his control prevent him from turning that win into something more noticeable.
Johnson’s pass-rush win rate is lower than you would like to see from a first-round pick. In 2021, he recorded a pass-rush win rate of 14.1%, per Pro Football Focus, which only ranked at the 60th percentile among qualified FBS edge rushers.
That rate is slightly above-average for a college edge rusher, but for a 22-year-old future first-round pick who was older than most of his opponents, that’s a little disappointing. Here are the numbers of the other first-round edge rushers for comparison:
- Aidan Hutchinson: 25.0% (98th percentile)
- George Karlaftis: 23.6% (97th percentile)
- Kayvon Thibodeaux: 23.2% (95th percentile)
- Travon Walker: 9.8% (25th percentile)
Johnson is certainly nowhere near the projection that Walker is. However, he falls well short of the proven elite-level production showcased by Hutchinson (#2 – Detroit), Karlaftis (#30 – Kansas City), and Thibodeaux (#7 – N.Y. Giants). All three players are at least one year younger than Johnson, too.
Here’s why I think it’s important to take note of Johnson’s performance in this statistic: there is evidence that it has real predictive value. While a lot of statistics don’t translate well between college football and the NFL, pass-rush win rate appears to be an exception.
Over the past few years, there has tended to be a relatively strong correlation between players’ pass-rush win rates in college and their pass-rush win rates in the NFL, as evidenced by this chart courtesy of ESPN’s Seth Walder.
Johnson’s lack of shine in this metric could be a warning sign that his pass-rush upside is limited. Or, it could turn out to be nothing but a silly number that everyone forgets about. We’ll have to wait and see. Either way, it’s something worth noting.
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Splashy playmaking in 2021
Despite his middling advanced numbers, Johnson posted outstanding numbers in the traditional box score this past season. He loaded up his highlight reel with big-time plays.
Johnson led the ACC in sacks (11.0) and tackles for loss (17.5) on his way to Defensive Player of the Year honors within the conference. He ranked seventh in the nation in sacks.
Showing an excellent motor, Johnson constantly found ways to get involved in the play. He led all Power-5 defensive linemen with 70 total tackles.
Johnson topped everything off with two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, two passes defended, and a fumble recovery touchdown.
Efficient sack conversion rate
While Johnson needs to improve at winning more consistently, he is excellent at making it count when he does win. Few college edge rushers were better at finishing off their wins.
Johnson recorded a sack-conversion rate of 30.4% in 2021, per PFF. This means that he picked up a sack on 30.4% of the plays in which he pressured the quarterback in any way (either a sack, hit, or hurry). It’s an elite rate, ranking at the 95th percentile among qualified FBS edge rushers.
Among Power-5 edge rushers with double-digit sacks, Johnson’s sack-conversion rate ranked No. 1.
Outstanding run defense
Johnson’s most NFL-ready trait is easily his run defense. There is some projection involved with his pass-rushing, but his odds of being a great run defender are strong.
In 2021, Johnson earned a 79.2 run-defense grade at PFF, which ranked at the 89th percentile among qualified FBS edge rushers. It was a better mark than Thibodeaux (76.8), Karlaftis (75.1), and Walker (73.7), trailing only Hutchinson (90.8) among the five first-round edge rushers.
Johnson is a good finisher in the run game. He recorded 44 total tackles against the run in 2021 while missing only three tackles, giving him a missed tackle rate of 6.4% which ranked at the 84th percentile.
Out of 216 qualified edge rushers, Johnson was one of just 11 who made at least 40 total tackles against the run and had a missed tackle rate under 7.0%.
Lack of help at Florida State
It’s worth noting that Johnson’s pass-rush efficiency might have been hampered by the lack of talent around him at Florida State.
The Seminoles were a sputtering 5-7 team that did not have any top-end players outside of Johnson. He carried the team for much of the year. In fact, Johnson was the only Florida State player selected in the 2022 NFL draft.
Despite having the best defensive player in the conference, the Seminoles still ranked 67th out of 130 teams in scoring defense (26.5 points per game), a sign of how much everyone around Johnson struggled.
Johnson led the Florida State defense with an 82.3 overall PFF grade (95th percentile among FBS defenders with 400+ snaps). Nobody else on the team even reached a 75.0 grade.
Build and athletic profile
Johnson’s physical tools give him intriguing upside.
Here’s a look at some of Johnson’s measurables and how they stack up among edge rushers in NFL Scouting Combine history:
- Height: 6′ 4⅝” (70th percentile)
- Weight: 254 pounds (25th percentile)
- Wingspan: 81⅝” (70th percentile)
- Arm length: 34” (68th percentile)
- Hand size: 9⅞” (49th percentile)
Johnson is on the slender side with his 254-pound frame but he’s got solid length for the edge at nearly 6-foot-5 with 34-inch arms.
And here is a look at how Johnson performed in drills at the combine:
- 10-yard split: 1.55s (97th percentile)
- 40-yard dash: 4.58s (92nd percentile)
- Vertical jump: 32″ (36th percentile)
- Broad jump: 125″ (91st percentile)
Johnson showed off special explosion and speed with his 1.55-second 10-yard split and 4.58-second 40-yard dash.
Overall, Johnson earned an elite Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 9.23 out of 10.
There isn’t much bust potential with Jermaine Johnson, but whether he can hit his ceiling is the question
Johnson has a fairly high floor. His length, athleticism, run-stopping skills, and experience advantage should allow him to immediately slide into the Jets’ defense as an effective run defender who occasionally makes splashy plays as a pass-rusher on the strength of his physical tools. His hustle and motor can always be counted on as well.
The question for Johnson is whether he can develop into a complete top-end pass-rusher. With his natural gifts, he will undoubtedly have his moments of pass-rushing brilliance in the NFL, but can he sharpen his technique and fundamentals to the point where he can cause havoc in the passing game at an elite level of consistency?
Johnson’s answer to that question is what will determine whether he becomes a star or caps out as a solid starter.