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On the Draft Board: Toledo’s Desjuan Johnson

Perhaps Kansas City nabs another piece for its defensive line on Day 3.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

As the 2023 NFL Draft process transpires, there will be many reports of the Kansas City Chiefs meeting with players in this class.

One of the prospects from this class the Shrine Bowl was defensive tackle Desjuan Johnson from Toledo. In an interview with Justin Melo from The Draft Network, Johnson mentioned that the Chiefs met with him at the Shrine Bowl.

Background

Johnson measured in at the Senior Bowl at 6 feet 2 and 267 pounds with 31 7/8-inch arms, 9 5/8-inch hands, and a 78 3/8-inch wingspan. Johnson is a bit undersized for a defensive tackle, although he played from 275 to 280 in his senior year.

“I played my senior season between 275 and 280. I played the first few games at 280. I spent the majority of the season at 275 though. I weighed in at the Shrine Bowl at 267, but I caught two flights and didn’t have time to eat. They weighed me as soon as I arrived. Right now, I’m back at 280 pounds. I’m trying to maintain about 280.”

Johnson was a three-star recruit from East English Village Prep in Detroit, Michigan. Johnson came to college at only 240 pounds but bulked up to 280 pounds over the course of five seasons. Johnson has been a three-year starter at Toledo, including two second-team All-MAC selections in 2020 and 2021.

In his redshirt-senior year, Johnson put up career-high numbers across the board. In 14 games, Johnson put up 44 pressures, 8.0 sacks, seven quarterback hits, 29 hurries and 16.5 tackles for loss. His 2022 campaign earned him a first-team All-MAC selection and put him on the map of draftable prospects. He used that campaign to earn a spot in the East-West Shrine Bowl, although he wasn’t invited to the NFL Draft Combine.

Film evaluation

When I watched Johnson on film, the first name I thought of was Chiefs defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton. Wharton came from a smaller background, but both are tweeners who played anywhere from 0-to-5-technique alignments in college. Both were undersized for the NFL, but you wouldn’t necessarily notice that on their college film.

The first thing that stands out for Johnson is his explosiveness. Johnson’s first step is electric, generating a tremendous amount of knockback power and force out of his stance. Johnson puts all that explosiveness into his hands, where he uses his first step to generate power through his hands. He’s able to beat smaller guards and centers with his power and length, crushing pockets in the process.

Johnson is more of a penetrator than a traditional defensive tackle, but he’s good at it. His first step and timing are electric, and he can split double teams with his speed. However, if he needs to take on blocks, he uses his length and upper-body strength to stack them. He’s not going to take double teams well, but against single-team blocks, Johnson can deal with them one on one.

Johnson also played some defensive end for Toledo, and he mentioned how teams envision using him in that way in the NFL.

“Most of the teams are telling me that I can play the 3-technique on passing downs. I can play defensive end on first and second down. Most teams have shared a similar vision with me. When we’re in third-and-obvious, I can kick over to 3-tech. I can play both positions, it just depends on the down and distance.”

I’m skeptical Johnson can play defensive end in the NFL since he’s a stiffer athlete who can’t rush the passer well from the defensive end. I don’t think Johnson will be able to produce as a pass rusher from defensive end, but as a run defender, Johnson can make an impact. His size, length and explosiveness are better equipped to deal with reach blocks than double teams, so if Johnson learns how to rush from defensive end, he could be a versatile piece on any team’s defensive line.

How he fits with the Chiefs

If Wharton isn’t healthy in 2023, Johnson could make sense as a replacement for him. They have different games, but similar body types that could translate to a quick fit in defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s defense. Spagnuolo loves to put bigger defensive ends on the field and kick them inside on passing downs, and Johnson fits that profile perfectly. Johnson makes schematic sense for the Chiefs and what they typically look for on the defensive line.

The bottom line

As a Day 3 or undrafted option, Johnson is reasonable for the Chiefs. Johnson will go under the radar without being at the combine, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Chiefs take him on Day 3. If he goes undrafted, the Chiefs connecting with him may be valuable if they want to bring him in as a free agent.

With Wharton’s injury and the Chiefs lacking bodies on the defensive line, Johnson makes sense as a similar body type and with his versatility. I’d love to see Johnson on the roster moving forward.

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