Why haven't the Carolina Panthers activated D.J. Johnson yet?

The third-round pick hasn't been active on game day in 2023.

D.J. Johnson
D.J. Johnson / Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
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Despite trading up to acquire edge rusher D.J. Johnson, the Carolina Panthers have yet to get him involved through three games of the 2023 season.

We are now three games into the 2023 season and things haven't gone well for the Carolina Panthers. The team has yet to achieve a victory, is dealing with some severe injury complications, and all the off-season hype surrounding their chances is all but gone.

Morale among the fanbase is diminishing and there's just no telling what the mood will be like if the Panthers cannot beat the Minnesota Vikings on home soil this weekend. There is a lot of football left, but it's going to take a huge effort from all involved to show enough signs of positivity under Frank Reich's new regime.

There is plenty of finger-pointing and overreactions across social media currently. However, there is one notable storyline that's going overlooked compared to the more high-profile players on Carolina's roster.

Carolina Panthers are taking things slowly with D.J. Johnson

This centers on rookie D.J. Johnson, who has yet to be activated for a regular season game. Something of a surprise considering the Panthers' need for edge-rushing depth without Marquis Haynes Sr. and the fact those in power thought enough of his skill set to trade up in the third round to secure his services.

Many thought Johnson was a major reach at the time. This was a six-year college player with one year of experience as an edge presence, so it looks like the Panthers have a soon-to-be 25-year-old development project on their hands.

Johnson didn't make many waves at training camp or during his time on the field in preseason. The coaching staff's reluctance to dress him for competitive action represents a damning indictment of his development and general manager Scott Fitterer's decision to sacrifice valuable capital to get him on board.

Most analysts had Johnson as a Day 3 selection. But with pass-rushers flying off the board, Fitterer took matters into his own hands and must now live with the consequences for good or bad.

There's no doubt Johnson has the physical profile to potentially be useful over time. However, he was incredibly raw coming out of college, and given his age, things must come together quicker than they are currently.

The best way for Johnson to learn is by getting him out on the field - even some special teams reps wouldn't hurt. So for the player to be in the proverbial wilderness depicts a complete lack of faith.

Of course, the Panthers could be slow-playing this and fooling everyone. If not, then it brings more scrutiny to Fitterer's door when it comes to finding draft picks that can actually contribute lower down the pecking order.

Picking Johnson wasn't the problem. It's the fact Carolina moved up and gave away another pick for the privilege when they weren't exactly flush with selections, to begin with.

That raised immediate expectations for Johnson to a level that he clearly cannot fulfill. And not sniffing the field through three weeks is proof positive of this.

Hopefully, Johnson will develop his athletic attributes and gradually become part of the team's plans. Anything less would be classed as a big-time disappointment and another wasted draft pick by a front office that is becoming renowned for such failings.

Time will tell, I guess.

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