Author: NY JETS UK CONTRIBUTOR
“I give you one guy, Jermaine Johnson, who scratched the surface last year, Now he’s bigger, stronger, faster, smarter when it comes down to the scheme … That guy right there took the initiative this offseason to get better. I’m sure he’s going to have a breakout year this year.” - Quinnen Williams
When one of the very best defensive players in football singles you out for praise, unprompted, you know you’re doing something right.
When that praise is backed up by your Head Coach, even better.
“I don’t know if you guys have noticed, he looks massive in a good way. He looks explosive, he’s very powerful. If you hold a bag, he’s just so heavy handed. Very powerful player, so really expecting him to take a jump this year. Excited about where his mindset is, his confidence, his competitive spirit, all of it. He’s in a good place right now,” Robert Saleh said.
It’s sometimes easy to get lost in the shuffle when you are part of the same draft class as Sauce Gardner and Garrett Wilson, but Jets second year defensive end Jermaine Johnson is ready to make his own statement in 2023.
After a promising rookie campaign which saw him register 2.5 sacks, 29 tackles (3 TFL), and one marquee moment running down highly athletic Bills quarterback Josh Allen for a shoestring tackle, the excitement and expectation is building for the Jets’ new number 11.
He has already cemented himself as one of the premier run defenders on the edge. According to PFF, Johnson recorded a run-stop rate of 9.8%, a number good enough to lead all rookie edge rushers and rank eighth-best out of 129 qualified edge players.
His ability to stack and shed blocks and his speed in pursuit of the ball carrier was exceptional. To make the next leap, he’ll be looking to increase those sack numbers and camp in opponent backfields.
When you consider his production came in a rotational role, it’s easy to see why everyone is excited about what year two will bring.
Physically he looks in prime condition, but the biggest win could come in his comfort in the system having had over 12 months to comprehend the complexities of the defence and understand his own role within it.
Johnson said as much when he met the media over the weekend, following a session where he registered several pressures and a would-be sack of Aaron Rodgers:
"Just understanding the scheme and being able to play fast," Johnson said about what's different this year. "I have been able to use my God-given abilities and hone them and play with an improved mindset and consistency."
Last year Johnson showed off his 4.58 40-yard-dash speed on the edge, aligned out wide he had the speed to go around the tackles, or the power to go through them.
When asked recently in a NY Post interview about his sack style, Johnson replied:
“Just meet to the fight point. If you’re even with me, I’m leaving you, and if you beat me there, I’m going through you, or inside. That’s pretty simple (laugh).”
This perfectly highlights his versatility to win with speed or strength; if he can introduce some inside counter moves then the sky's the limit.
The Robert Saleh/Jeff Ulbrich system is predicated on getting pressure without having to blitz, and that’s something they managed to do as well as any team in the league last year.
According to Pro Football Reference, the Jets pressured teams on 25.4% of snaps, which was the 3rd highest rate in football. But they blitzed just 14.9% of the time, the lowest rate in the NFL.
The two teams who had a higher pressure rate, the Philadelphia Eagles (25.5%) and the Dallas Cowboys (25.6%), also blitzed at a much higher rate; the Cowboys at 25.6% and the Eagles at 22.1%.
If the Jets repeat that this year, they can continue to confuse quarterbacks with their coverage schemes, dropping extra players into the middle of the field; it’s going to fall to guys like Johnson to win his matchups on the edge.
Getting after the quarterback will generate headlines, especially if Johnson can do so in the new Legacy White throwback uniforms, a nod to the New York Sack Exchange jerseys, but protecting the edge is vital to winning in today's NFL, especially against quarterbacks who have home run potential with their arms and legs.
Which is why his run-down of Josh Allen last season was so impressive. There are only a handful of defensive ends who have Johnson’s athleticism and size combination, and the number of players capable of tracking Allen to the sideline is even smaller.
According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson recorded 37 defensive stops during his final year at Florida State. They consider a defensive stop any tackle that constitutes a failure for the offence. If you consider he had 14 sacks, that means he had over 20 tackles in the run game which resulted in a failure for the offence.
Far from a one-dimensional pass-rusher, Johnson is a modern-day edge who takes as much pride in stuffing the run as sacking the quarterback. Having recently had his first child, he’s often spoken about his determination to leave a legacy, not only to be feared by the opposition but respected for doing something special.