What could D.J. Johnson bring to the Carolina Panthers after the edge rusher became their No. 80 selection in the 2023 NFL Draft?
The primary focus over the first two rounds centered on landing a franchise quarterback and getting their new rookie signal-caller another dynamic weapon in the passing game. Bryce Young was always the Carolina Panthers pick based on comments after the fact, with those in power opting to ignore some defensive needs in favor of picking wide receiver Jonathan Mingo at No. 39 overall.
Perhaps the most surprising thing of all is general manager Scott Fitterer's lack of trade activity. Maybe the market wasn't robust, or maybe the Panthers feel like they already have enough capital to fill problem position groups.
It's also noteworthy that Carolina has the salary-cap space available to sign one or two quality free agents remaining on the market should they wish. Something that's obviously providing an extra sense of freedom to take what the primary decision-makers feel is the best player available.
Carolina Panthers draft D.J. Johnson at No. 80 overall
This was also evident with their selection in the third round, where the Panthers traded up to No. 80 for D.J. Johnson, a versatile athlete that's occupied multiple positions throughout his college career.
Although Johnson has experience at tight end and linebacker, it appears as if he'll set himself up as a developmental edge rusher in the pros. He is another who tested extremely well at the NFL Scouting Combine, which is the type of prospect Fitterer normally goes for at this stage of the process.
And of course, Fitterer couldn't resist a trade.
Johnson has an outstanding burst and can reach the contact point in a rapid fashion. Considering he transitioned from tight end at Oregon in time for the 2022 season, his performances were largely encouraging and there is plenty of room to grow.
This does look like Fitterer betting on traits rather than college production. The difference this time around is there is a coaching staff in place to nurture Johnson's talent effectively.
If he cannot thrive in this sort of environment, it's unlikely Johnson will succeed anywhere.
Asking Johnson to fill a starting role immediately might be pushing things. But with 4.49-second speed in the 40-yard dash and a frame that can fill out, it's an intriguing selection that could bring about long-term upside.
Giving up an extra pick when capital is scarce isn't exactly ideal. However, it could be a sign of how much belief there is in Johnson across those in positions of power.
This pick doesn't get the green light without Ejiro Evero's approval, either. Johnson has the length and motor to potentially carve out a decent role for himself, but the coaching staff has a lot of hard work ahead thanks to some technical flaws and undeveloped footwork.
Still, it's another option if nothing else. Even if it shouldn't stop the Panthers from adding an edge rusher while Johnson refines the aforementioned aspects of his game.
Just gotta trust the process. After all, Fitterer gets paid the big bucks for a reason.