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Giants 2021 roster profile: Raymond Johnson III a diamond in the rough?

Johnson is one of only three UDFAs signed by the Giants

Could Raymond Johnson III make plays like this for the Giants?
AJ Henderson / Georgia Southern Athletics

NFL teams will take pass rush help wherever they can find it. Could the New York Giants have found some in Raymond Johnson III, an undrafted free agent out of Georgia Southern?

“Raymond was a really good diamond in the rough find for us,” Georgia Southern head coach Chad Lunsford told Big Blue View.

Could he be that for the Giants, as well? Let’s take a closer look at Johnson as we continue our player-by-player profiles of the 90-man roster the Giants will bring to training camp later this summer.

The basics

Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 270
Age: NA
Position: Defensive end
Experience: Rookie
Contract: Year 1 of three-year, $2.425 million undrafted free agent contract | Guaranteed: $0 | 2021 cap hit: $803,333

Career to date

Johnson had 15 sacks in 49 games for Georgia Southern. As a senior, he had 5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. Johnson’s 90.3 Pro Football Focus pass-rushing grade was 14th in the country. He was fourth in the nation with 33 quarterback hurries, 33rd in pass rush win rate and 34th in pass rush productivity.

So, there is pass-rushing talent there.

Here is a scouting report from Emory Hunt’s 2021 Football Gameplan draft guide:

Strengths:

Terrific with his hands at the POA. He does a great job of disengaging from blocks & getting into the backfield.

Between his hand fighting and ability to use multiple ways to slip blocks, it has made him one of the more disruptive DL in the conference.

He has very good short area burst and quickness, and can change direction very well.

Areas of Improvement:

Splitting double teams or even just managing them better will be where he can improve.

He played more of the 5T at Georgia Southern, but I think he’ll be better coming off of the edge as a pro. There are times where he’s just not strong enough to win with power if his speed is cut off.

From the 2021 Draft guide authored by Dane Brugler of The Athletic:

Johnson creates his own pass rush lanes due to his physicality, relying on his heavy hands to swat and displace blockers. He isn’t a natural bender and will struggle when he attempts to corner. His effort stays consistent, but he isn’t the most instinctive or rangy edge defender and needs to improve his contain skills. Overall, Johnson isn’t a top tier athlete for NFL edge work, but he is skilled at forcing his way through blocks due to his disruptive hands and contact balance.

Johnson was not heavily recruited out of Sumter High School in South Carolina. He was what Lunsford called a “low 3-star” player who had offers from Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Appalachian State and Wake Forest.

“What he turned out to be for us, he really coulda been a Power 5 guy, for sure,” Lunsford said.

“When we got him and then when we saw the intangible that came with him there was no question he was going to be a dude for us.”

Lunsford became Georgia Southern head coach in the midst of a 2-10 2017 season, Johnson’s freshman year. The team has gone 10-3, 7-6 and 8-5 the last three years, appearing in bowl games each time.

“When guys saw that talent and saw that work ethic he instantly got leadership credibility … When he said things people listened and he was a huge part of our turnaround,” Lunsford said. “He was huge. He was the guy that really led that charge.”

Raymond Johnson III at his Pro Day.
AJ Henderson / Georgia Southern Athletics

Because he never red-shirted, playing at Georgia Southern as a true freshman, Johnson could have returned to school for the 2021 season due to the NCAA adding a year of eligibility for fall athletes due to COVID-19.

Lunsford said there was “no question” he supported Johnson’s decision to turn pro, even though he and Johnson knew from what NFL teams had been telling them that he was likely to end up as a priority free agent.

“He expressed that he felt it was time in his life to go do it. Of course I gave him my blessing on that,” Lunsford said. “I don’t ever want to stand in somebody’s way if they feel like it’s time to go chase their dream.

“I do think that he will impress and end up becoming that player that he always thought he could be in the NFL.”

2021 outlook

The Giants added a number of stand-up edge defenders this offseason, including Azeez Ojulari, Elerson Smith, Ryan Anderson and perhaps Ifeadi Odenigbo.

When you really look closely, though, there might still be a need for defensive end depth behind Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence and B.J. Hill. Odenigbo will probably be used there. Niko Lalos can play there. R.J. McIntosh is on the roster, but has given the Giants little in three seasons.

There might, then, be an opening for a true 5-technique defensive end like Johnson.

Lunsford said he thought Johnson “made a really good choice” by signing with the Giants, becoming one of only three undrafted free agents added by the team.

“I do think he’s a 5-technique. That’s what he did for us. However I do think he has the athleticism to stand up and drop, I think he can do that. I definitely think he can pass rush off the edge,” Lunsford said. “I think going to a 3-4 defense is definitely good for him.”

Could the Giants have found a diamond in the rough of their own in Johnson?

“I think that what the Giants will end up finding out with him is that when they coach him he’s going to be very coachable with putting tools in his toolbox to be a good pass rusher,” Lunsford said. “I thought they felt like he would be a guy that you could take as a priority free agent he could add instant depth to the team.”

We will find out this summer if the Giants agree.