Why Jermaine Johnson's college coach believes Jets pick will 'translate to a star'

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Jermaine Johnson Treated Art
Jermaine Johnson Treated Art

There might be no one in college football who raised his draft stock more than Florida State DE Jermaine Johnson this past season.

A transfer from Georgia playing out his senior season in Tallahassee led the ACC in sacks and tackles for loss, while earning himself a spot on the First Team All-American team. Tack on Senior Bowl and NFL Combine domination, and you’re looking at someone who could be taken in the Top 10 later this month.

Johnson is sometimes forgotten when you look at the likes of Aidan Hutchinson, Kayvon Thibodeaux and Travon Walker in terms of edge rushers. But Florida State special teams coordinator and defensive ends coach John Papuchis believes he has a bright future in the league.

“I think Jermaine Johnson is going to translate to a star,” Papuchis told SNY. “I don’t say that because I’m doing it for an interview. I just think he has a charisma, a look, he’s good in front of the media, he’s good with people, and he has the skill set. He can really be anything he wants to be, because I think he has all the things you need to have on a big stage like that.”

The fact that Papuchis can be that declarative despite having seen Johnson play for just one year says something about what he could immediately bring to the Jets.

Papuchis’ first contact with Johnson came during spring conditioning when he got to campus, and what really made an impression was how he wanted to stand out right away.

“He’s a new guy, just got on the roster, doesn’t know anyone on the team really and just the fact that he was willing to put himself out and lead and really work hard every single day to try to earn his teammates’ respect was the first thing that popped up,” Papuchis said about Johnson.

What was the second thing that made him stand out?

“Just how physical of a player he was,” Papuchis said. “I knew he was a great pass rusher and I knew he had that skill set. I didn’t realize the way he played the run game, how physical he was, and how he took on blocks, and how he got off blocks, and how he finished on ball carriers. I was really impressed by the way he approached the spring last year.”

Johnson’s physicality and overall motor is his calling card. At 6-foot-5, 254 pounds, the Eden Prairie, Minn. native is seen consistently driving his legs and using violent hands to disrupt tackles off the edge and get to the quarterback. And Papuchis says, it’s not just something that happens on game day for Johnson.

Anytime pads are on, he’s ready to give 100 percent.

“He was a phenomenal effort guy any time he was in a practice setting, and I think those habits you can create when you play like that on a day in and day out basis is what allowed him to play with such great effort on Saturdays,” he said.

Papuchis believes that sort of "effort" and "desire to want to be great" are things that can help Johnson set himself apart once he gets to training camp, too.

"You can offset a lot of the learning curve if you just go play hard,” Papuchis explained. “That’s going to happen. I can’t foresee any scenario where that wouldn’t be his calling card, because he takes great pride in that. His natural ability to rush the passer should translate at the next level.”

Does scheme fit matter? Johnson played in a traditional 4-3 scheme, which is what head coach Robert Saleh runs with the Jets. So Johnson won't have to make a big transition to a different scheme.

“With his hand down in a 4-3 and a more traditional rush end sense, he was able to be really effective for us," Papuchis said. "I think with his size, speed and athleticism, I think he’d be able to fit in either scheme.”

The Jets have have to love his production at Florida State, but the biggest question surrounding Johnson is whether or not his insane year was just that: one really good year. Papuchis gave a different perspective, though.

“For Jermaine, he’s kinda a unique guy in a transfer situation,” he detailed. “A lot of guys leave a program because they’re not happy for whatever reason in the program that they’re at. That really wasn’t the case as to why he was looking to transfer. He wanted to get into a position where he could be a featured guy on the defense. From a philosophical standpoint, he wanted to get to a place that would play a guy 50 or 60 plays in a game.

“He wasn’t coming here because he was running away from something. He was really running toward something and that was just an opportunity to play more.”

But is he ready for that pressure in this New York market?

“My opinion on Jermaine is he wants that pressure,” Papuchis said. “I think that’s why he came to Florida State. There were a lot of talented guys at Georgia that he was playing with. I think he wanted to come into an environment and situation where he could be that lead guy. He put a lot of pressure on himself to produce, and I thought he got better as the year went on in terms of his production and that’s when people already knew who he was.

“He does embrace that challenge of being the guy and I think wherever he goes, if that’s the opportunity that’s presented, he’ll confront it head on and I’m really excited to watch how his NFL career develops.”