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Florida State Player to Watch: EDGE Defender Jermaine Johnson II

From ‘Last Chance U’ to First Round 2022 Draft Projections, Miami’s Keys to Tame the ACC’s Lone Bednarik Award Semifinalist

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 05 Notre Dame at Florida State Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last offseason, the Canes lost three key pass rushers to the 2021 NFL Draft in EDGE defenders, Jaelan Phillips, Gregory Rousseau, and Quincy Roche. Two of those three (Phillips and Roche) were players the Canes procured through the NCAA Transfer Portal and, thus, it came as no surprise when Miami went back to the portal to replenish the pass rushing pipeline.

Indeed, the Canes were hoping for a Phillips-type splash and looked at the SEC where they signed Deandre Johnson from Tennessee. While Johnson has been a contributor on the Canes front seven, it is another EDGE defender named Johnson who moved from the SEC to an ACC school in Florida that has been the prized breakout transfer: FSU’s Jermaine Johnson II. Whether they want to or not, the Canes will get an up close and personal look at Jermaine this Saturday, who is one of the nation’s best defensive players this season.

Jermaine’s Circuitous Route to Premier EDGE Pass Rusher

Johnson II’s path, similar to Miami transfers Phillips and Roche, has been hardly linear. But, as is usually the case on the field for pass rushers, it’s not how you start it’s how you finish. Hailing from Eden Prairie, Minnesota, the redshirt senior’s journey has quite literally been a well-documented one of last chances as he was featured on Netflix’s documentary, “Last Chance U.”

Despite having the obvious frame to wreak havoc at 6-5, 262-pounds, Johnson II was only considered a two-star prospect by 247Sports out of high school where he was ranked the 2,089th recruit nationally, and 105th weakside defensive end in 2017. For reference, Jaelan Phillips was the No. 1 overall recruit in that class and Rousseau was the 485th best recruit in 2018.

To make matters even more challenging for the Minnesota native, Johnson II was deemed academically ineligible by the NCAA as he honed a GPA of just 1.9. With the path to FBS ball seemingly stymied, Johnson II had to pursue the last chance route, junior college, and made the move to Independence Community College in Kansas. Johnson II not only excelled on the field, but worked on his academics, which opened the door to FBS level ball.

Quarterback’s Nightmare

Johnson II was a highly rated JUCO recruit and made the jump to the Georgia Bulldogs. However, he mostly played standing up as an outside linebacker. Even more, Johnson II only started four games while playing in the SEC in a rotational role where he tallied 36 tackles, 7.0 for loss, and 6.5 sacks over two years of play.

For reference, Johnson II has had a meteoric rise in nine starts for the Noles as he has tallied a monstrous 54 tackles, 10.5 for loss, and 7.5 sacks on the 2021 campaign. Johnson II transferred out of one of the most lauded defenses in the country but has seamlessly transitioned into a FSU defensive line room that experienced two draftee departures in defensive ends, Janarius Robinson and Joshua Kaindoh (fourth round), as well as defensie tackle, Marvin Wilson, who was initially a priority free agent.

Johnson II has honed his coverage capabilities learned while playing standup linebacker in Athens, but has added immense versatility to his repertoire - which helps disguise defensive formations and make him a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. In particular, Johnson II is comfortable lining up in a three-point, as well as standing flanked off of the tackle. Johnson II can also transition right back to the box. He can also play on either the weak side or strong side.

Overall, Jermaine has earned a 79.5 PFF grade this year, which is well-rounded as he has earned an 80.6 run defense grade, 72.2 pass rush grade, and 72.5 coverage grade. Needless to say, Johnson II’s arsenal is well-balanced and there is reason to fear the 260-pounder who ran a 4.5 40-yard dash in high school. His athletic ability and explosiveness at the line of scrimmage will be a challenge for a Miami offensive line that has been up-and-down recently. His bend is also top notch as he disrupts running backs and tight ends alike.

Miami’s Keys to Stopping Johnson II

The production has been obvious this season for Jermaine who has seen his stock rise as high as a projected top-ten pick for the 2022 Draft. The graduate transfer has had to work hard and change his attitude to rise up the ranks, which sounds very similar to the Miami transfer, Phillips, who tweeted: “crazy what hard work and mindset change can do,” after his sensational 2020 season.

Prepare Van Dyke: During Tyler Van Dyke’s tenure, he is yet to face a pass rusher as disruptive as Johnson II, who earned ACC defensive lineman of the week against Clemson. Johnson II is also listed as a Bednarik Award Semifinalist - presented to the nation’s top defensive player. With a lengthy frame, Coach Manny Diaz and company would be wise to prepare Van Dyke by practicing with paddles/tennis racquets at the line of scrimmage a la Bill Belichick when he would prep Tom Brady to face JJ Watt. In all seriousness, Van Dyke has backed up his word to date and has been able to make quick decisions to evade pressure, but his presence is going to have to be sharp as a tack against Johnson II.

Offensive Line Eliminate Johnson II: For the most part, the offensive line has moved their trajectory in the right direction. However, they need to assure that they are able to focus on and eliminate Johnson II early and often. Coming out flat-footed, whether in the pass-defense or run-defense will cause a slew of issues, as Johnson II can beat you both ways

Spread Success: A large part of Van Dyke’s success has been building rapport with multiple weapons - Charleston Rambo, Mike Harley, Xavier Restrepo, Will Mallory, and Keyshawn Smith. And a large reason why the offense is currently thriving is due to the namesake success of the uptempo spread formation. The quicker Van Dyke is able to find the open receivers, the less time Johnson II will have to create pressure. As it relates to Mallory and scheme, this is a huge opportunity for him to work on his blocking presence.

Establish the Run: Jaylan Knighton has been a horse recently, but it would be nice to see some diversity with true freshmen, Cody Brown and Thad Franklin. Franklin has had limited exposure yet but, due to his size, would be key for short yardage and blocking situations.

If the offensive line or blocking schemes come out slow and don’t give Van Dyke and the running backs time to make things happen, then Johnson II will certainly smell blood.