Desjuan Johnson first suited up for the Toledo Rockets in 2018 for a MAC title defense season. In his final year of eligibility last fall, the defensive tackle wrapped up a long Toledo tenure in storybook fashion, from both an individual and team perspective.
Toledo claimed its first MAC championship since 2017 — Johnson’s senior year of high school — in a 17-7 defensive-led slugfest against Ohio. Later in the month of December, Johnson and the Rockets utilized a potent defense to edge Liberty 21-19 in the Boca Raton Bowl, marking the program’s first bowl win in seven seasons.
Johnson not only exited Toledo a champion, but also a First Team All-MAC selection. The defensive tackle racked up Second Team All-MAC honorees in 2020 and 2021, before upgrading himself to First Team in 2022 with a successful campaign featuring career-highs in sacks (5.5) and tackles for loss (16.5) to complement 65 tackles and an interception. He concluded his time at Toledo with 210 tackles, 45.5 tackles for loss, and 14.5 sacks as a well-established starter on one of the MAC’s top defenses.
Despite tremendous on-field success, Johnson was snubbed an invite to the 2023 NFL Draft Combine in Indianapolis. Still, the longtime Rocket demonstrated his talents at the East-West Shrine Game with an impressive tackle for loss in the first quarter. After gaining momentum as a prospect from the East-West Shrine Game, Johnson then made up for lost Combine time in front of representatives of 30 NFL teams at Toledo Pro Day on March 21.
Per Kent Lee Platte’s often-utilized metric Relative Athletic Score (RAS), Johnson registered a rating of 6.60 at Pro Day for the defensive tackle position. While Johnson — who also may be utilized as an EDGE at the next level — showed to be undersized compared to the typical defensive tackle, he showed out with impressive speed results including a 5.02-second 40-yard dash time with a 1.7-second 10-yard split.
Two former NFL players Platte likens to Johnson in regard to RAS measurements include longtime San Francisco 49er and recent Hall of Fame inductee Bryant Young, as well as former Chicago Bear defensive tackle Jim Flanigan.
Johnson was measured at 6’2” and 285 pounds — a slightly higher playing weight than the listed 275 from his senior season at Toledo. He mostly played defensive tackle (primarily 1-tech and 3-tech) in Toledo’s 4-2-5 scheme, concocting a talented pass rush alongside fellow multi-time All-MAC honoree Jamal Hines. With those two manning the defensive line, Toledo registered 2.43 sacks per game last season (tied for 43rd in FBS) and boasted a serviceable run defense which stifled opponents to 3.8 yards per carry.
Desjuan Johnson is getting some top 30 visits and this play touches on why. I’m watching Sow and am bummed Johnson doesn’t switch sides to face off with him, but he’s borderline unblockable in this game. pic.twitter.com/T1PEkt1pFK— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) April 5, 2023
At the professional level, it appears teams are interested in what Johnson has to offer as both a 3-tech defensive tackle and an EDGE, allowing the Detroit native become a more compelling prospect due to his versatility. Where Johnson doesn’t stack up to many 3-techs in terms of size and length, he makes up for in speed and athleticism as evidenced by his Pro Day numbers. The three-time All-MAC selection was a consistent performer on the defensive line throughout his five years as a Rocket, and his quickness and explosiveness are his gateways to thriving at the next level. Johnson presents a substantial amount of power and can utilize this, in combination with speed, to blow past opposing offensive lines.
For a defensive tackle, 16.5 tackles for loss is an incredible season total. Johnson made this happen by testing interior linemen with explosive first steps — seemingly the instant the ball was snapped following the snap. He registered a majority of those 16.5 TFLs well within the tackle box before runs even remotely developed. This type of disruption he inflicted on opposing defensive lines was his No. 1 calling card in the MAC. His swim move is his specialty, and many guards he faced in college didn’t have the lateral quickness to counter in time.
I know some folks don't have Toledo tape handy so just consider this your formal introduction to Desjuan Johnson (#1).— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) February 6, 2023
6'2" 270 lb, 6t/3t that I compared a few days ago to sawed off Justin Tuck.
Great kid. Hails from Detroit, and I think Campbell would love him. Fits their mold pic.twitter.com/XOulxAbgLQ
Toledo also called upon Johnson to handle zone coverage in the short field on occasion. With his speed and athleticism, he was more than suitable for this task. He secured his first collegiate interception in the Battle of I-75 rivalry against Bowling Green last November. It was Johnson’s only forced turnover his senior season, but as a junior, he forced two fumbles in addition to pouncing on another.
Right when Bowling Green has all the momentum — BANG. Toledo interception. That’s defensive tackle Desjuan Johnson on the pick. pic.twitter.com/kBzIYP7cnv— Hustle Belt (@HustleBelt) November 16, 2022
Overall, Johnson’s dominance in his 1-on-1 drills during East-West Shrine Game practices as well as the speed attributes he demonstrated at Pro Day make him an intriguing prospect. There is some plug-and-play ability with Johnson, as he can serve a variety of purposes on the defensive line ranging from a 3-tech lineman in a 4-3 defense to an EDGE rusher. These characteristics could vault the former Toledo standout into a day 3 draft selection. In the event Johnson does not hear his name called in Kansas City the final week of April, he should be a priority free agent signing for a litany of NFL teams.