Jermaine Johnson II could be 'best edge rusher' in draft and a fit for Lions at No. 2


You know about Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux. You've seen the love for Travon Walker. Here's another pass rusher to watch when the Lions make the second overall pick in the draft: Florida State's Jermaine Johnson II.

"I really like Jermaine Johnson’s tape a lot," longtime NFL analyst Greg Cosell told 97.1 The Ticket. "It wouldn’t surprise me if down the road he becomes the best edge rusher in this group."

If he's flown under the radar in the draft, Johnson has been a household name for a while. He was the No. 1 JUCO recruit in the country in 2019 after starring for Independence Community College on the Netflix series 'Last Chance U.' And after transferring from Georgia to Florida State, he was ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2021.

Johnson produced 14 sacks in the regular season, tied for second in the country per Pro Football Focus. He also led the ACC with 18 tackles for loss. He would instantly boost a pass rush in Detroit that has finished among the bottom five teams in the NFL in QB pressures each of the last three seasons.

"He’s long, he’s wiry," said Cosell. "He has some work to do, he’s not a true bender but he can bend. There’s a power element to his game. He plays stronger than what his build looks like since he is so wiry. He has what you look for: he’s got great arm length, he’s got natural quickness. I really like Jermaine Johnson’s game.

"Plus, for whatever it’s worth, he plays the run exceptionally well. He had some dominating, dominating reps versus NC State left tackle Ickey Ekwonu, and that really stood out to me."

Indeed, against a fellow potential top-10 pick, Johnson earned one of his highest grades of the season from PFF. He finished the game with five tackles, four pressures and three defensive stops.

In a defense where Dan Campbell wants to "build a wall" against the run and get after the passer -- what coach doesn't? -- Johnson could be a perfect fit. He's an even more intriguing candidate for Brad Holmes and the Lions if they successfully trade down from No. 2. draft analyst Lance Zierlein compares Johnson to Raiders Pro Bowl defensive end Maxx Crosby, praising his "NFL traits and the potential to keep getting bigger and better as a pro."

"He's more instinctive and consistent as a run defender, but his length and relentlessness are excellent building blocks for challenging protection," says Zierlein.

No one really knows what Holmes, Campbell and the Lions are thinking at No. 2. (And anyone who says they do is lying.) Detroit could go any number of directions depending on what the Jaguars do at No. 1, where Walker is becoming the trendy pick. The Lions are reportedly 'smitten' with Thibodeaux, but what if Hutchinson, widely considered the draft's best defensive player, falls in their laps?

"I think Hutchinson -- and I hate to use these terms because everybody uses them -- but I think Hutchinson is relatively safe," said Cosell. "I think he’s a solid player. He does what you like from the defensive end position, he’s got the sort of hands-hips-feet profile. He’s very well-coordinated, he finishes when he gets there.

"What really stood out to me about him, which you rarely see from college players, is that he had a plan every week for who he was playing against. He didn’t just line up and play. He had an approach and a plan, and that’s pretty rare for a college player."

On Thibodeaux, probably the most explosive pass rusher in the draft, Cosell said he "reminded me at times of a Jadeveon Clowney, who’s actually had his most success in the NFL moving inside and rushing the quarterback, which Thibodeaux did at Oregon as well. But his game is built on get-off and power much more than bend and flexibility."

And on Walker, Cosell said he's a "multi-position player" but a "projection" as a pass rusher.

"If you’re thinking of him as an edge pass rusher, that’s something you’re sort of projecting. You’re looking at his measurables and believing that he can do that because of his size and his arm length, but he did not do a ton of that at Georgia. They moved him around quite a bit, he played inside a lot where he was really good."

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