Darrell Johnson started out his career at East Carolina as a defensive end his first two seasons before still being used as an end, but being more of a standup rusher who filled the role of run stopping linebacker as well when the team moved to a 3-4 scheme. Johnson flourished in the role, earning the team’s MVP as a junior.
For the NFL, Johnson has an intriguing skill set as someone with power and a decent amount of burst. He seems to excel playing on the opponent’s side of the line of scrimmage, doing his best work when he is able to knife through and make plays. Johnson is accustomed to taking on blocks and looks the part playing on his feet. It remains to be seen where teams think Johnson’s home is position wise in the NFL, but he might be more suited to play a true linebacker than as a pass rusher. Johnson warrants a day three pick, but there is a chance that he could go undrafted. What helps Johnson is that he seems to excel and impress in every opportunity presented, so he should be able to make a team with a chance to have a nice impact at the next level.
Vitals & Build
Johnson is listed at 6’2” 264lbs with a thick, strong build. He has impressive strength and power with decent burst and speed going forward. His hips are stiff and he has problems making quick adjustments but he can get low and maximize his power. Johnson has an NFL body as is, but his potential lies in how much more fluid he can get and getting quicker.
Johnson does a good job of wrapping up on contact and he keeps driving with his legs, so he can not only secure the tackle but drive the opponent backward. The issue that Johnson will run into is that he does not always break down and ends up overrunning plays and missing tackles, having a difficult time adjusting on the fly. Given his strength, if he just makes contact, the opponent will go down, so he just needs to consistently sink his hips and just ensure he hits the target.
For the most part, Johnson plays as a linebacker directly over the tight end or as a defensive end in East Carolina’s scheme. As a result, he is accustomed to taking on contact and having to deal with a block. Johnson can deliver a punch and jolt a tight end or offensive lineman and has the strength to drive them back. He can shed, but needs to get cleaner and more efficiently with getting rid of them.
When plays tend to work out toward his side, he tends to take the block and end up over pursuing, giving the ball carrier a lane back inside. Depending on the design of the scheme, he could be setting the edge of the defense to allow his teammates to rally to the ball carrier and make the play.
There are times when he will attack inside off of the line of scrimmage and get shoot into the backfield before he can be accounted for and blow up the play. His range is relatively average, but he is comfortable working through trash and through contact to find the ball carrier and make tackles.
His ability to read and diagnose plays are solid but not spectacular. The times where he is wrong on where he needs to be or go are few and far between; he just needs to be better at getting there in certain situations.
Johnson has experience in coverage, but he is largely kept to play in short zones or playing in man in the flat. He seems most comfortable when he can keep his body facing the line of scrimmage and just slide around. His athleticism can occasionally catch opponents by surprise but he does not appear to be a huge asset in coverage at this point.
Kept in short zones or a doable man cover, he is fine and should be able to operate fine on running downs. If he is in on an obvious passing down, he is far more likely to be attacking up the field and pass rushing. Johnson’s coverage has been more of a changeup than a regular feature.
Pass Rush & Blitz Ability
Johnson is not a great outright edge rusher, but he does have some characteristics that make him intriguing. He usually operates from the outside but through stunts and some situations where he is lined up as an inside linebacker, he does attack up the middle.
Johnson has an effective bull rush and seems to use that more than anything else. He is able to get leverage and maximize his functional strength, able to drive some talented offensive linemen into the backfield. He can use some agility and displays some quickness as long as his hips are facing that direction, but he does not really use a lot of real estate laterally. For the most part, Johnson operates in a phone booth as a pass rush and takes the action to the blocker as opposed to trying to avoid them.
Johnson has been used on stunts and has been able to be effective attacking inside with speed and quickness as well. As a linebacker who is able to collapse the pocket on occasion, he provides an interesting blitz option that can help create opportunities for teammates.
Johnson seems more suited to be a blitz option than a regular featured pass rushing threat, but he can get to the quarterback, he does have some decent speed to close and he hits with a pretty good amount of force.
The most obvious fit for Johnson may be as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 or even going back to being a defensive end. With that said, based on what he brings to the table and how he plays, he seems more suited to play either strong side linebacker in a 4-3 and his best fit might be as a 3-4 inside linebacker that can operate as a thumper.
Johnson has a ton of heft, power and he is used to taking on blockers, showing the ability to drive them backward, but has the athleticism to play on his feet. He also seems to rush the passer as if he is in a phone booth anyway, so blitzing him from the inside seems like a better option for him.
Johnson just seems to be bred for that type of role as he is not a dangerous enough as a declared pass rusher at this point. As a blitz option, he can use that burst and power with a short path to the quarterback as well as being able to make an impact against the run.
Johnson will need to find a way to contribute on special teams and will almost certainly start out as depth, but his skill set could find him on the field as a pure run stopper quickly if he can pick up an NFL scheme and shine the way his talents suggest.
It also would be less likely, but nevertheless possible that Johnson could potentially get looked at for fullback. His ability to bend, get low and play with leverage and power could make him a viable option there.
Johnson has some similarities to former Cleveland Browns linebacker David Veikune. Veikune had no business being drafted in the second round and the plan for him was ill-conceived coming out of Hawaii. The former defensive lineman had moved out to end. The Browns were going to have him try to learn outside and inside linebacker. He ultimately could do neither and flamed out quickly.
From a physical standpoint, Veikune is similar to Johnson, but being put in a better situation and focusing him on one position where he can just be a hammer up front.
In the event he was to make the move to fullback, he could be similar to Bruce Miller. The former standout at Central Florida played defensive end but was picked up by San Francisco and made into an effective fullback.
Darrell Johnson is a hard-nosed player who just seems to wear opponents down with his power and relentless approach. He is at his best attacking forward and playing on the opponent’s side of the line of scrimmage, but can help in short zones or in the flats in man coverage. The question that teams have to answer with Johnson is with all of the various skills he possesses, where they ultimately see his home in the NFL when it comes to position. Johnson is worth a day three pick but there is a chance he could go undrafted if teams are just not sure where to put him, but he just finds ways to succeed when given opportunities and could end up outlasting a number of players picked in front of him.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com