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Miami Hurricanes 2021 Player Profile: DE Deandre Johnson

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From Palm Trees to Rocky Top, Johnson Returns Home Where He Aims to be the Latest Transfer EDGE Defender to Excel at the U

Miami Athletics (247Sports)

Miami has been a recent beneficiary of the NCAA Transfer Portal and one of the biggest positions that has experienced an uptick in performance from it is the Defensive End unit. Namely, in the previous two seasons, Miami has welcomed a premier pass rusher by adding Jaelan Phillips from UCLA in 2019 and Quincy Roche from Temple in 2020, both of whom shined during their lone season at Miami in 2020 en route to their NFL draft selection this past April.

This year, following the departure of Phillips, Roche, and additional first round pick, Gregory Rousseau, Miami hopes for similar success by way of another transfer, Deandre Johnson, who makes his way to Coral Gables after four seasons at Tennessee.

RECRUITING BACKGROUND

Hailing from Miami Southridge High School (FL.), Johnson took a circuitous route back to the U.

In fact, his high school recruitment process had no shortage of bouncing back from adversity. In March 2015, following a freshman season that involved a fractured fibula, Johnson was stabbed several times by a female classmate in a random event outside the school cafeteria. The event required life-saving surgery. He spent several days in the hospital and lost nearly 40 pounds but returned from to play his junior season.

Following that junior season, Johnson weighed his options and committed to Mississippi State, who were being led by now Florida Gators’ head coach, Dan Mullen. As for Miami’s involvement, he had stated “I have a lot of interest in them,” at a point when he only had an offer from Temple. Miami is the only Florida school that the South Florida native visited, but the opportunity was not explored much further.

Johnson then had a breakthrough 15-sack senior season at Southridge that resulted in a Class 8A championship. His recruiting stock skyrocketed but, much to the chagrin of Miami, Johnson focused on out-of-state programs. The three-star product ranked 104th overall among 247Sports recruits and ultimately de-committed from Mississippi State. Thereafter, he was rumored to have high interest in Tennessee and South Carolina but ultimately signed with the Vols and enrolled early.

Of note, the final meeting with Vols’ personnel involved an in-home visit from current Miami defensive advisor, Bob Shoop, who was Tennessee’s defensive coordinator at the time.

FROM PALM TREES TO ROCKY TOP

Upon arrival to Rocky Top, Johnson had his culture shock to the cooler weather.

“I walked outside and it was 18 degrees,” Johnson said. “I was like, ‘Naw,’ and I turned right back around and went inside.”

Even more, Deandre was in a completely new environment where he would be called upon to offer immediate depth at a thin position. In fact, even though Johnson weighed in at 235-pounds upon enrollment, he bulked up to 258-pounds by the time his freshman season started. Johnson’s underclassmen years could be defined by flashes of athletic ability and dedication to his craft but subpar production that included rising to the occasion when given the opportunity.

As his career collegiate debut, Johnson tallied three tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, and two forced fumbles. However, after the opener, Johnson was plagued by injuries his freshman year and only recorded stats in one additional game as he played 56 total snaps on the season.

After year one, Johnson once again realigned his offseason workout program to the Vols’ needs. To that end, Deandre shed 15 pounds in order to transition to outside linebacker to assist with the team’s defensive scheme alterations. However, despite playing 12 games his sophomore season, Johnson’s production lacked as he totaled 13 tackles, three tackles for loss, and two sacks. The only two sacks came against ranked opponents in Auburn and Kentucky. As a junior, Johnson also only collected 13 tackles but had a pivotal tackle for loss in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl.

It seems like Johnson finally found his bearings during this past year as the team’s veteran made a decent ascension. Namely, he was named SEC Defensive Lineman during the team’s opener, as Johnson had a career high six tackles, 2.5 sacks, and a forced fumble in a win over South Carolina.

In this senior season, Johnson accumulated 28 tackles in the 8-game COVID-abbreviated, which nearly equaled the total from the previous three seasons. He also added six tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, and two more forced fumbles during his career high 350-snap season. Johnson did have a notable lapse during the solid senior campaign as he was ejected for targeting against Georgia.

Despite inconsistent production up until his senior season, Johnson has answered the call as far doing what is asked of him whether it be in the weight room, on the practice field, or in pivotal moments on gameday.

However, to really get to the next level and raise his draft stock, Johnson needs to continue to progress in a Canes’ EDGE room where he should be DE1. The potential is surely there to have a breakout season as an every down defensive end.

“Once I got that fifth- through seventh-round grade last year, I said it has to be strictly football,” Johnson told Manny Navarro of The Athletic. “Last year, I started off hot, had four sacks through the first two games, had a lot of buzz… I said I’m going to go back to school, put it all together and I’m going to shoot up those draft boards.”

AND BACK TO PALM TREES

The volatile Volunteers have experienced a mass exodus of transfers from the program due mostly to coaching staff turnover. However, Johnson cites a need to be closer to his family in South Florida, as well as mutual interest between him and the U, for ultimately choosing the Canes.

“I had a big decision to make on whether I wanted to go pro or come back to school,” Johnson said. “I had a good feeling about coming back to school and when I hit the portal, Miami was one of the first schools that contacted me and it just made too much sense. It was pretty much a no brainer.”

The U’s recent placement of EDGE defenders to the NFL was also a big reason for the decision.

“Seeing that The U has three guys that could potentially be first round picks makes Miami so appealing and that stuck out to me when I was looking at them,” Johnson said.

Johnson is ranked the 87th best transfer by 247Sports, in a top 100 that includes other Miami transfer additions WR Charleston Rambo and CB Tyrique Stevenson.

There is also some familiarity with the Canes’ program. The 6-3, 246 pounds Johnson has Miami ties as he is the younger cousin of former Miami defensive end, Ricardo Williams, who played for the Canes from 2011-12. As to his listed weight, Johnson also told Navarro he’s 11 pounds heavier and that’s he focused on playing bigger and faster. That should be music to the ears of Canes’ fans who just witnessed transfer defensive end, Phillips, experience a hulk-like transformation under Strength and Conditioning Coach David Feeley’s program.

2021 EXPECTATIONS

Johnson’s transition from Tennessee to Miami includes leaving the SEC for arguably inferior competition in the ACC. However, Johnson will be back up against a familiar foe in the season opener against Alabama this September.

As a player, Johnson gradually progressed during his time at Tennessee as he has started seven or more games the past three years, after starting just two his freshman season. As noted above, he did so against fierce SEC competition. The embedded video also provides evidence that he proved to not only be a pass rush specialist, but also a tenacious run stopper - a woe that haunted Miami in 2020.

As far as his playmaking traits, Johnson has displayed immense versatility in rotating between 3-4 outside linebacker and up front on the defensive line in a 4-3 defense. In fact, when Johnson enrolled at Tennessee, many thought he would be capable of occupying a viper-type role, a term used to describe a positionless defender that occupies numerous facets of the defense.

Ultimately, however, Johnson predominantly occupied the defensive line as 332 of his 350 snaps started in that area. Regardless, Johnson has proven to be assignment-proof as he lined up in multiple schemes in Knoxville and was a factor against the run and pass. His speed and acceleration have been key components to his game during his career, as well as a keen ability to finish the pursuit. Specifically, Pro Football Focus credited Johnson with 13 pressures on his 168 pass rushing snaps in 2020.

Johnson strived through adversity in high school en route to a college career that has required immense patience to reap the rewards of his work. To that end, the toughness and effort in persevering through injuries and strife indicate Johnson is ready to continue the progression in his career. Johnson has all of the traits necessary to be a premier player, and this will be his last chance to prove it on the college level as he fills in some big shoes that just did the same.

Johnson is the projected number one defensive end in a stout lineman room that includes Jahfari Harvey, Zach McCloud, Chantz Williams, Cameron Williams, Nesta Jade Silvera, Jared Harrison-Hunte, and Leonard Taylor. The veteran Johnson has all the pieces in place to continue his breakthrough as he should experience an uptick in snaps and will be working with DL coach Jess Simpson , strength coach David Feeley, and his former coach, now-defensive analyst, Bob Shoop. To that end, the trend of impressive defensive ends making their way to the U should continue this year in what should be Johnson’s lone season at the U.

STATS PROJECTIONS: 35 Total Tackles, 10.0 Tackles for Loss, 6.0 Sacks, 2 Forced Fumbles, 1 INT, NFL Third Round Pick 2022.