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Patience pays off for former FSU pass rusher Jermaine Johnson, Jets

As Jermaine Johnson II sat patiently in the green room on the Las Vegas Strip during the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday night, the Florida State defensive lineman wasn’t worried he hadn’t heard his name called. His faith was strong, and he knew eventually he’d land in the right spot.

The New York Jets selected the 6-foot-4, 254-pound Johnson with the No. 26 pick.

“I’m strong in my faith and I knew that I would be where I was supposed to be,” said Johnson. “I’m with the Jets now and I’m where I’m supposed to be.”

Johnson became the 46th Florida State player selected in the first round and the first since defensive end Brian Burns in 2019. He became the highest-drafted player in the two seasons under coach Mike Norvell.

“The journey was so long and hard, but it’s so rewarding at the same time,” Johnson said. “To be able to be selected in the first round and to be able to be on the Jets, I’m so excited. When I visited the Jets, it was a family feel and we clicked instantly and they said they’d come get me and that’s what they did.”

A graduate transfer from Georgia, Johnson earned ACC Defensive Player of the Year after leading the league with 12 sacks and 18 tackles for loss. His performance also earned him a spot as a semifinalist for the Bednarik and Lombardi awards and a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award.

His decision to transfer certainly helped pave the way for his future NFL career.

“It was extremely rewarding and I was able to give something to another program in Florida State other than just making plays on the field, and I was able to give more and leave a lasting impression there,” said Johnson.

Johnson’s performance made him one of the most sought-after edge rushers in the NFL Draft. He was projected by draft analysts as a top 15 selection, including ESPN’s Mel Kiper, who had him at No. 7 in his final mock draft. But despite having five defensive players selected at the start of the draft for the first time since 1991, Johnson found himself still waiting to hear his name midway through the first round.

Yet he wasn’t worried, recalling his predraft visit with the Jets.

“I never got beside myself or anything,” Johnson said, “and I was just excited and reminded myself that I’m in the green room and at the NFL draft.”

The Jets, meanwhile, were busy having drafted Cincinnati defensive back Ahmad Gardner with the No. 4 pick and Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson at No. 10. But with Johnson still available, general manager Joe Douglas and coach Robert Saleh pounced. They made a deal with Tennessee in which the Jets got the Nos. 26 and 101 picks, with the Titans receiving picks 35, 69 and 163.

“We were very surprised he was there in the late 20s,” said Douglas. “Coach and I got together and were like, ‘Let’s start getting him probably around 15. Let’s start trying to make a move together.’ You’re trying to make fair offers and see who’s willing to dance with you. So it took a little bit, but we’re able to finally deal with Tennessee.”

All that was left was to let Johnson know, which Saleh did with a phone call.

“He said, ‘What did I tell you? What did I tell you? When you left my office?’ I said, ‘That you guys would come and get me,’ and he’s like, ‘We came and got you. We’ve been trying to get you all night,’” recalled Johnson.

His projected rookie contract would be for four years at an estimated $13 million with a possible $6.7 million signing bonus, according to Spotrac.

Johnson provides the Jets with another elite pass rusher, joining a group on the defensive front that features fellow ends Carl Lawson and John Franklin-Myers and tackles Sheldon Rankins and Quinnen Williams.

“I don’t know any of them right now, but it’s a pretty loaded room and I’m excited to be a part of that group,” said Johnson.

New York finished the 2021 season ranked No. 26 in sacks (33).

“He’s very smart and probably the most pro-ready of all the pass rushers this year in terms of having a repertoire to his game and something that we can add to,” said Saleh. “He’s a perfect fit for what we do defensively, and he’s going to be a great complement to the group that we already have.”

This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Matt Murschel at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @osmattmurschel.

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