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Edge rusher Jermaine Johnson II out to prove breakout year at Florida State wasn’t a fluke

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INDIANAPOLIS — Jermaine Johnson II had but one year to prove his worth as an edge defender.

He did just that in his first and only season at Florida State, racking up 12 sacks, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year award and an invitation to the Senior Bowl, where he turned heads during the week in Mobile, Alabama. But why did it take so long for Johnson to emerge?

Snap counts, scheme fit and a general lack of opportunity were to blame, Johnson told reporters Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine as he recounted his journey from Independence Community College to Georgia and finally, Tallahassee.

“I think the only question mark on me is that I’ve had (only) this past year of one solid year of really good production,” Johnson said. “That’s a question mark, but I think if I had the same snaps before, I would have done the same thing. If I did it two consecutive years, I don’t think it would be a question.”

Now that he’s completed one year of operating within an ideal situation, all of the past struggles are now old news, and Johnson thinks he’s the best edge rusher in this class.

“Because I do everything exceptionally well,” Johnson said when asked to support his statement. “I play the run as well as I play the pass. Nobody in this class does that like I do.”

Johnson certainly looked the part in his first season with the Seminoles, rewriting his narrative from a tale of a player who failed to produce to one who just needed the right opportunity to shine. A lack of year-over-year consistency might give interested clubs some pause, but Johnson has found they too understand the dynamics of his somewhat unique ascension.

“My meeting with Seattle kind of gave me a different (perspective) on that,” Johnson explained. “[Seahawks coach] Pete Carroll, he just said in front of everyone, he’s like, ‘so we’re not going to judge him off any of the years of college (prior to Florida State). Last year is who you were.’

“Coming in from junior college to Georgia, a lot of complications can happen. For him to know right off the bat, like, ‘let’s not judge him on some different complications. Let’s judge him on when he’s in a comfortable environment and when he’s being used the right way, when he’s happy.’ That made me feel really good.”

Next up for Johnson is proving 2021 wasn’t a fluke. He’ll have an opportunity to do so wherever he lands in the 2022 NFL Draft, and that process continues with his on-field workout this weekend at the combine, where he hopes to show “that I’m as good as I think I am.”

On Friday, Johnson set the table by repeatedly expressing confidence in his own abilities. He’s aiming to follow in the footsteps of his favorite NFL stars — Johnson listed Myles Garrett, Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald as his top three — by becoming a player opposing offenses fear. No matter the scheme, as long as he’s lining up outside the tackle, Johnson believes he “can be a headache for offenses.”

No one knows for certain whether Johnson can live up to that expectation. But after flying under the radar for most of his college career before his breakout 2021 campaign, Johnson is familiar with surprising folks with his performance. He just needs a team to understand his path to the league and give him a chance to contribute.

“Getting in front of people and actually explaining my journey, answering questions, it was pretty evident,” Johnson said of his interviews with NFL teams during the week. “I just needed to be in the right place, being played and actually being able to be the Jermaine Johnson. I know I am for a team.”

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