Back in 2022, the New York Jets made three selections in the first round of the NFL Draft. Their first pick, cornerback Sauce Gardner, was named Defensive Rookie of the Year and made both the Pro Bowl and the All-Pro First Team. Their second pick, wide receiver Garrett Wilson, was named Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Their third pick, edge rusher Jermaine Johnson, made a more muted contribution. He played in 14 games but did not make any starts, and ended up playing 34% of New York’s defensive snaps. He finished the season with 2.5 sacks, three tackles for loss, and five quarterback hits. Among the 247 players league-wide who rushed the passers at least 125 times, per Tru Media, Johnson’s pressure rate of 9.7% ranked tied for 112th and was just south of the 9.8% league-average for that group of players.
Heading into Year 2 of his career, Johnson feels like he’s ready to make a bigger impact.
“I feel insanely more comfortable for a couple of reasons,” Johnson said last week, per the team’s official website. “One, I never did it before at this level last year, so I didn’t really know what to expect. Everything’s moving so fast and now, I had an opportunity to have a proper offseason to build my body to what I want it to be. Last year, I didn’t have that. We’re getting ready for the Combine and whatnot. As a rookie, you’re kind of trying to play catch up in terms of football development, but this offseason has given me a lot of confidence let alone understanding what everyone expects of me this year in the building and wants for me this year in the building.”
In addition to increased comfort, confidence, and understanding, Johnson feels like he is at another level athletically.
“I just feel day and night in terms of explosiveness,” Johnson said last week. “Explosiveness, technique, building my body, stuff like that. Just old school, you know. Just in the weight room all the time, eating, making sure I’m good. We like to make jokes. I just had a daughter, so now I have the father strength they call it or whatnot. But I’m just seeing crazy changes right now, it’s making me very excited and I know everyone else in the building is excited because when I’m at my best, I know it’s just going to help the team.”
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Johnson’s position coach, Jeff Ulbrich, sees the same things in store for Johnson.
“I’ve seen a guy that’s just matured,” Ulbrich said. “When he got here last year, there were some ups and downs, as there are with all rookies. It’s a hard transition coming to this league, the length of the season, everything about it. He is in such a better place this year. You can just feel that he’s settled. He understands exactly what he wants to get accomplished, and more importantly, he understands how to get that accomplished. Seeing him work out here, it’s not just a guy just straining and flailing and working hard. There’s a deliberate approach to every drill that he has. He knows exactly the things that he needs to work on and improve and I’m excited about what he could become. I really am.”
Most of the talk around the Jets this offseason has been about the new Aaron Rodgers-led offense, but New York already had one of the NFL’s best defenses last season. If Johnson can give the team another player who can generate pressure at a high level, that could help the Jets get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2010.