Heading into the 2019 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills had seemingly set themselves up well to draft the best player available. If the cards came up defense, an edge rusher to pair opposite Jerry Hughes seemed like a strong possibility. Well the Bills landed their defensive end—in round seven with pick number 11. Darryl Johnson Jr. was the selection, a junior hailing from North Carolina A&T. A textbook small school, it was notable that Johnson being drafted made it the third year in a row that a player from his school was picked via the draft.
In his three years in school, Darryl Johnson Jr. accumulated 19 sacks and 41 tackles for a loss. His 2018 season saw 10.5 of those sacks and added seven quarterback hits. As a result, Johnson was named the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference defensive player of the year.
With small schools often flying under the radar, there’s very little news about Johnson and no notable red flags. An injury sustained as a high school senior reportedly led to Johnson only receiving an offer to play football for North Carolina A&T.
An injury in college led to Johnson having limited combine participation. Johnson did participate in Pro Day drills, with mostly respectable showings. His 4.84 time in the 40 was average for the position as were nearly all his performances. His 3-Cone Drill time of 6.97 seconds was just past one standard deviation away from the position norm and is his best number.
Even still, his spider chart is intriguing if you dive deep. At the top end for height and the low end for weight, Darryl Johnson Jr. seems poised to take my nickname. There’s some talk he can add weight to his frame, but comparing his arm length to wingspan makes me wonder about this. Assuming similar arm length between right and left, Johnson’s numbers suggest a narrow chest of about 10”. At a full 4” shorter, Ed Oliver’s numbers would indicate he has over a 12” chest. Diminutive additions Jaquan Johnson and Devin Singletary also both come in at the 12” chest. This overly deep wingspan analysis seems to indicate there’s not much frame to add weight to.
Darryl Johnson Jr. is said to be a hard worker with excellent energy. Good reaction time and a solid first step are noted strengths. Johnson’s pad level and approach to leverage are praised. The techniques he does utilize are felt to be good.
A lack of variety in technique is felt to be a major weakness. There are other odds and end that could be a concern, but consensus is tougher to find with smaller school players due to decreased attention. The one thing universally cited is the slender frame leading to Johnson being out-muscled.
If Johnson sticks it’s likely because he put a lot of work in. In need of a wider array of skills, Johnson will need to focus on adding new techniques while maintaining the utility of his existing ones. At the same time he’ll need to add mass and strength. Being undersized at the college level, Johnson could quickly become a liability when faced with NFL competition.
There are two former Bills who make good player comparisons, though you may not want to read either name. At 6’4” (still shorter than Johnson), Mark Anderson is a good physical comparison. Perhaps an even better comparison would be Aaron Maybin. At the same height as Anderson but ten pounds lighter, Maybin never found his niche in the NFL. His limited success was as a role player with the New York Jets when a pure speed rush was in use .