This NFL Draft could well include an edge-rusher run right at the top. Travon Walker, Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux could well go 1, 2, 3 like quarterbacks did a year ago. It seems highly unlikely, though certainly not impossible, that any of them make it past the New York Giants at No. 7 overall.
Where does that leave the Falcons, in dire need of pass-rush help after posting just 18 sacks a year ago? Are they forced to go in a different positional direction?
Not if Jermaine Johnson II's left on the board. The Florida State product and former Georgia defender is no consolation prize, a dominant edge setter and pass rusher who had an unreal 2021 season could be both a productive pro and a solid scheme fit for the Falcons.
We look at Johnson's playing past and projected future, examining whether the Falcons should take him with their first-round pick.
Why the Falcons should take Johnson
Johnson may not have Walker's straight-line speed -- it's close -- or Thibodeaux's bend, but he is strong at the point of attack and as relentless as anyone getting after the ball carrier. Notice how I said ball carrier instead of quarterback? That's because he defends the run and pass hard. He's a physical player who can set a good edge and get into the backfield on passing downs using both power and speed.
Oh, and he's a bigger dude (though not massive) at 6-foot-5, 254 pounds. And he's quicker than you think, with straight speed and initial quickness shown with a 4.58-second 40-yard dash and a 10-yard split in the 97th percentile of all combine participants.
Sounds like a Dean Pees scheme fit to me. He's a player who could thrive in this defense and be a strong contributor to an 11-man effort. That's a major factor in building a good defense, especially when looking for three-down defenders.
You don't just want someone who only shows up with a strip sack. Those are obviously huge plays you want top picks to make, but some of the best efforts don't show up in the stat sheet. Johnson gives you all that plus a penchant for making a big-time plays.
All that was evident during an excellent week at the Senior Bowl, which punctuated a monster 2021 season where he had 70 tackles, including 17.5 for a loss, 11.5 sacks, 46 overall quarterback pressures and 2 forced fumbles.
While analysts says he needs some technical refinement, that's what coaches are for, and the Falcons have a darn good one in outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino.
Johnson also falls in a sweet spot in terms of value, worthy of the No. 8 overall pick where some other prospects may seem like a reach at that stage. If he's available at No. 8 and some of the top players are off the board, Johnson seems like an obvious fit and a smart pick.
Counter punch: Why the Falcons should pass on Johnson
Passing on Johnson wouldn't be easy. Doing so would be less about him and more about those still available. Is Cincinnati cornerback Sauce Gardner still around? What about Thibodeaux? Alabama tackle Evan Neal? The truly elite, top 5-ish prospects could fall and change the return Atlanta can get at No. 8. Then you leave Johnson on the board.
Maybe Kyle Hamilton as wowed to the point that the Falcons feel they can build a defense around him and go that route. The top of the NFL Draft is wildly unpredictable, especially when considering the traditional push for quarterbacks in the top 10, even if they're not necessarily the best player available at the time of selection. All those things could push Johnson slightly down the priority list.
If we're getting nitpicky here – that's essentially what this section is for – Johnson's raw speed and athleticism won't wow you like Thibodeaux or Walker might.
What are the odds he'd be available?
Seemingly good, but not secure. Remember when we mentioned the possibility Walker, Hutchinson and Thibodeaux all go in the top 3? They could go in the top 4 as well, which would leave the edge-rusher starved Giants looking for help at Nos. 5 and 7. They could easily snag Johnson, who also seems like an excellent fit in New York.
That would put him out of the Falcons reach and leave them looking elsewhere.
There are some fans who think Johnson can be had in slight a trade down. While getting Johnson and some extra capital is ideal, I agree with Kris Rhim's take on that from our Falcons Final Whistle podcast – it's just too risky. He could go to Seattle at No. 9 for sure or several other spots – Houston at No. 13 also comes to mind, if they go offensive tackle at No. 3 – and the Falcons would be bummed if they traded down hoping to get him and he was no longer there, considering the relative, perceived drop off between Johnson and the next group of first-round edge rusher.