Like teammate Andrew Vollert, who was the subject of yesterday’s 90-in-90 profile, P.J. Johnson also took a rather unusual route to the pros and even made a similar stop along the way.
Johnson grew up in Sacramento, California where he attended Luther Burbank High School. He was a two-time First-Team All-Metro selection and finished his senior season with 90 total tackles and six sacks. That tackle mark is huge for a defensive tackle, for what it’s worth.
Straight out of high school, Johnson committed to Sacramento State University where he spent the first two seasons of his collegiate career. Johnson didn’t see the field in year one after a burst appendix forced him into a redshirt. As a redshirt freshman, he saw time in 11 games. He totaled just 13 tackles but added 4.5 of those for a loss, one sack, and a forced fumble.
After a leg injury took away his entire 2016 season, Johnson transferred to San Francisco City College for the 2017 season, just one year after Vollert left for Weber State. In his lone season in SF, Johnson had 17 tackles, 8.5 tackles-for-loss, 4.5 sacks. and a forced fumble across 10 games. He then played his final year at the University of Arizona where he was named an All-Pac 12 Honorable Mention member after posting 31 tackles, 8.5 for loss, three sacks, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, and a safety.
Johnson’s pro day unfortunately did nothing positive for his draft stock. His forty time of 5.34 at 321 pounds was no bueno and his 24.5 mark in the vertical and 7’10 in the broad paint a very lethargic athlete. His short shuttle time of 4.97 also showed scouts that they were only going to get a guy who can squat down and hold his place at the line of scrimmage. As far as moving in either direction, he wasn’t going anywhere.
Even after the less-than-ideal performance in his athletic testing, Johnson was still draft, albeit in the seventh round, to the Detroit Lions. He was released during the final cuts on August 31 of last year. He spent several months out of football before being signed by the Chargers on December 4.
Years with team: 1
“P.J. Johnson signed a 1 year, $610,000 contract with the Los Angeles Chargers, including an average annual salary of $610,000. In 2020, Johnson will earn a base salary of $610,000, while carrying a cap hit of $610,000” - Spotrac.com
Johnson only has one year of film at Arizona, but there are some decent flashes of potential scattered throughout. He pushes the pocket with raw power and has even shown an excellent swim move that he was fairly successful with when coupled with a great jump off the line. He also show cases some good hand strength that he will use to shock blockers. His film against Oregon that starts with a huge TFL by Johnson and it’s a good watch if you want to see him at his best.
Although he’s listed at 335 pounds, Johnson isn’t going to be the stout, double-teamer vaccuum that you would want from someone his size. He’s more of a power rusher from the interior with the way he tries to penetrate gaps and time snaps counts. He struggles to entrench himself against double-teams and he consistently ended up 3-5 yards down the field. He’s built top-heavy, meaning there not a ton of mass down below. Without good leverage, blockers are able to take advantage of his high center of gravity.
Odds of making the roster/What to expect in 2020?
The team has enough interior defenders who will all surely make the final roster. Johnson looks to be the last man out of the non-UDFA group and will likely see himself on the practice squad once again. He’s still talented enough to be a serviceable player in emergency situations, but there would have to be a litany of injuries in front of him to see any meaningful playing time.
Fun Fact: Johnson has two kids, Tolu and Kiara.