Time is of the essence for Carolina Panthers edge rusher D.J. Johnson

The second-year edge rusher faces an uncertain future.
D.J. Johnson
D.J. Johnson / Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

It's not D.J. Johnson's fault that the Carolina Panthers panicked and drafted the player way earlier than every projection available.

The edge rusher was seen by many as a Day 3 selection or a candidate to go undrafted. His production matched these expectations as a rookie and fell far below what the previous decision-makers had in mind when they traded up for him at No. 80 overall.

Johnson struggled to adapt. He found opportunities limited, turning out in just 29 percent of Carolina's defensive snaps from 13 games - three of which he started. Unsurprisingly, the former Oregon star failed to record a sack as a result of his subpar efforts.

What the future holds for Johnson is unclear. The Panthers aren't exactly blessed with outstanding pass-rushing depth after losing Brian Burns, Frankie Luvu, and Yetur Gross-Matos this offseason. That's a positive working in his favor, but time is of the essence considering he'll turn 26 years old before the 2024 campaign.

Carolina Panthers need to see major improvements from D.J. Johnson

This looks like a grave error in judgment from former general manager Scott Fitterer - something that became synonymous with his incompetent tenure as Carolina's front-office leader. The Panthers are giving Johnson another shot at redemption, but not many fans are holding out hope he can become someone defensive coordinator depends upon long term.

Schuyler Callihan from Fan Nation highlighted the critical need for Johnson to impose himself next season. If not, the writer believes the Panthers will go in a different direction quickly.

"The Panthers were without D.J. Wonnum and Jadeveon Clowney for most of spring ball which opened the door for guys like Johnson to make a strong impression with increased opportunities. Unfortunately, he was unable to take advantage of that due to dealing with a couple of different injuries. The decision to move up in the draft to get him a year ago was questionable and so far, the return hasn't been great. As a rookie, Johnson appeared in 13 games and made 16 tackles (1 TFL) while failing to record a single sack or QB hit. It's only year two, but given that he'll turn 26 in October, he needs to start showing something soon or Carolina could look to move in a different direction."

Schuyler Callihan, Fan Nation

Johnson got plenty of prominent reps over early workouts with Jadeveon Clowney and D.J. Wonnum missing. This was positive, but any momentum came to an abrupt halt when the second-year pro was carted off with an injury during the team's mandatory minicamp.

This is yet another bump in the road for Johnson. Whether he can pick himself off the canvas and catch the eye during Carolina's upcoming training camp remains to be seen. How the edge presence fares during preseason involvement will also go a long way to determining what sort of role - if any - he'll play next season.

Dave Canales spoke at length about having no emotional attachment to his roster construction alongside Dan Morgan. The new general manager holds a similar opinion. Evero has seen enough of Johnson to determine whether he can carve out a successful career or not.

Johnson has his work cut out, there's no getting away from that. The numbers game - or lack thereof - might be his saving grace. What comes after that is extremely uncertain.