Toledo defensive lineman Desjuan Johnson was a standout performer at this year’s East-West Shrine Bowl. Scouts in attendance described Johnson as “unblockable” throughout various practices. Johnson enjoyed a career-best season at Toledo after recording personal bests in tackles for loss (16.5) and sacks (5.5).
Johnson recently spoke exclusively with The Draft Network. Johnson and I discussed his experience at the Shrine Bowl, which NFL teams showed interest in his services, and his pass-rush arsenal.
JM: You were at this year’s East-West Shrine Bowl. What do you think you proved to scouts and general managers in attendance?
Desjuan Johnson: I think I proved that I can play with any level of competition while still dominating. I dominated the MAC conference for several years but people will discredit that because it’s the MAC.
I dominated every time we played out of conference teams, too. I just wanted to display my abilities against some of the best seniors in the nation. I believe I did that at the Shrine Bowl.
JM: You took me right into my next question. How do you typically respond to the “small-school” narrative and competition-level questions? That’s partially why the Shrine Bowl was big for you.
Desjuan Johnson: I don’t really pay attention to it because, at the end of the day, we are who we are. We all play football. It doesn’t matter what school you went to. If you can play, you can play. We’ve even seen D-II players do well at the next level.
I’m a football player first and foremost. I’ve played against big-school players. I’m training with a few of them right now. I competed against them at the Shrine Bowl and proved that I belonged. When we played against top-level competition, I dominated their players just like I dominated within our conference. I don’t really pay attention to the small school stuff.
JM: Your numbers speak for themselves. Who were some of the teams you met with in attendance at the Shrine Bowl?
Desjuan Johnson: I met with the majority of the teams in attendance. I met with a long list of teams. Since then, I’ve had some conversations with the Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Rams, New England Patriots, and Philadelphia Eagles.
JM: It sounds like there’s a lot of interest in you. You measured in at 6-foot-2, 267 pounds. What is your ideal playing weight at the next level?
Desjuan Johnson: I played my senior season between 275 and 280. I played the first few games at 280. I spent the majority of the season at 275 though. I weighed in at the Shrine Bowl at 267, but I caught two flights and didn’t have time to eat (laughs). They weighed me as soon as I arrived. Right now, I’m back at 280 pounds. I’m trying to maintain about 280.
JM: I’m curious as to the feedback you’ve received on what position NFL teams see you playing at the next level. You played everywhere for Toledo, including the 1-tech. I can personally see you playing some 3-tech and 5-tech, but what are you hearing and what are your personal thoughts?
Desjuan Johnson: Most of the teams are telling me that I can play the 3-technique on passing downs. I can play defensive end on first and second down. Most teams have shared a similar vision with me. When we’re in third-and-obvious, I can kick over to 3-tech. I can play both positions, it just depends on the down and distance.
JM: That makes a lot of sense to me. You recorded career-highs in tackles for loss (16.5) and sacks (5.5) this season. What changed for you in 2022? What led to those numbers?
Desjuan Johnson: I knew I was going to get those double teams. I became a smarter football player. I understood the game at a higher level. I didn’t always have that clarity in previous seasons. There’s a reason my production increased every single year.
I started getting those double teams during my junior year. Teams are sliding protections to try and stop me. They caught me off guard a little bit. I knew what looks I was going to get as a senior. The double teams and protections didn’t phase me. I knew how to defeat those double teams.
I was out there making plays. I ran to the ball on every single play. To make it to the NFL out of the MAC, I knew that I had to be extremely productive. I was mindful of that. I wanted to make every single play. I ran to the ball on every snap.
JM: That’s an excellent point. How would you describe your pass-rush arsenal?
Desjuan Johnson: I have a deep bag, man. It depends on what team we’re playing against though. I prefer to study my opponents. I have a lot of weapons in my arsenal. I can work a ton of moves. I have a lot of speed, but I have more than that. A lot of people think I’m just a speed guy. I’m not. I have a ton of power as well.
JM: We saw that on tape. I imagine you were disappointed not to receive an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine. I certainly felt like you belonged. How do you plan on responding to that adversity?
Desjuan Johnson: I’ve been underrated my entire life. This is nothing new to me. I was disappointed, but I wasn’t surprised. My main goal wasn’t to receive an invite to the combine. My goal was to prove that I can play with the best of the best. I did that throughout my time at Toledo, and especially at the Shrine Bowl. Whatever I did at Toledo, I wanted to repeat that during the all-star circuit.
I made my presence felt at the Shrine. They had like four defensive tackles in attendance and we rotated through us all every other defensive drive. I made big-time plays every time I stepped onto the field. I got a tackle for loss on my very first drive. I would have made even more plays if I played more snaps. I just made the best of it.
Of course, I was hoping to receive an invite to the combine. It was an opportunity for me to prove that I can move, jump, and run. It wasn’t in God’s plans, I guess. I’m still going to do all of those things at my pro day. I’m going to make the best of it.
JM: I’ve appreciated your time today. In closing, why should a team use one of their draft picks on Desjuan Johnson?
Desjuan Johnson: Whichever team drafts me is going to get the best out of me. I’m here to help the team win games. I want to win a Super Bowl. That’s what I’ve been telling teams. I’m a team-first guy. I’m as loyal as they come.
I could have Toledo for bigger offers, but loyalty comes first and foremost to me. Toledo believed in me and I wanted to repay their faith. I stayed at Toledo. We won a bowl game and championship in the same season. That’s the first time we’ve [Toledo] done that since 2001.
I’m a difference-maker. My presence is always felt. I love leading by example. I just need one opportunity. All I need is for one team to take a chance on me. I’ll handle the rest.
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