While the Buffalo Bills may have boasted the league’s number-two defense in 2018 in terms of yards against, the team struggled in one major area for the second consecutive season: rushing the passer. The Bills have been below league-average in terms of sacks in both years under head coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, totaling only 27 sacks in 2017 (T-29th) and 36 sacks in 2018 (26th).
Clearly, the Bills need to do more to disrupt opposing quarterbacks than they have in the last two seasons. While this may be a given, the team has done little to address the defensive end position, which is the one most associated with sack numbers in a defense that deploys four down linemen. In today’s edition of “90 players in 90 days,” we profile one of the team’s additions at defensive end—a rookie looking to make the transition from a 3-4 outside linebacker to a 4-3 defensive end.
Name: Darryl Johnson
Height/Weight: 6’6” 253 lbs.
Age: 22 (23 on 4/4/20)
Experience/Draft: R; selected in the seventh round (225 overall) of the 2019 NFL Draft
College: North Carolina A&T
Acquired: Seventh-round draft choice
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Johnson’s four-year rookie contract is worth a total of $2,618,088. Of that total, $98,088 is guaranteed in the form of a signing bonus. For the 2019 season, Johnson carries a cap hit of $519,522 should he make the final roster. If Buffalo releases him, then only his signing bonus will count as a dead-cap charge.
2018 Recap: Johnson had a phenomenal final season at North Carolina A&T, as he led the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in sacks with 10.5. He was fourth on his team in total tackles, notching 50 on his way to earning conference Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Positional outlook: Johnson is a long shot to make the roster, but his long-term potential and athletic chops could make him a dark-horse candidate to sneak onto the back end of the roster. Jerry Hughes, Trent Murphy, and Shaq Lawson figure to be the team’s top-three defensive ends, so Johnson is battling Eddie Yarbrough, Mike Love, and Eli Harold for the fourth spot in the rotation.
2019 Offseason: Johnson has participated in all offseason activities to date.
2019 Season outlook: I think that Buffalo views Johnson as a long-term developmental project—so he isn’t someone who should necessarily be expected to make the roster this year, but he’s certainly someone the team expects to contribute down the road. Johnson has already added nearly 20 lbs to his frame, but he’s still a bit lean for the defensive end spot. Some time on the practice squad would probably do him well. If he has a great preseason and shows some pass-rush ability, then he might sneak on the roster as a passing-down specialist, but I expect he’ll be a practice-squad player in 2019.