The LA Rams lost two significant contributors from the 2022 defensive line in veterans Greg Gaines and A'Shawn Robinson, and the Rams roster certainly appeared to have room for a rookie to contibute this season. So when the Rams draft added former Toledo defensive lineman Desjuan Johnson, there was a subdued hope that he may become a contributor to the Rams defensive front in 2023.
A quick summary
If you don't know just how good LA Rams defensive line coach Eric Henderson is, you really have not been paying attention. With a talent pipeline filled with raw rookie propects and inexpensive veterans, he continues to generate one of the best defensive line units in the NFL. Unlike the narrow focus of many fans, Coach Henny conducts the Rams defensive line like a conductor establishes a symphony orchestra. It's a blend of pass rush, blocker gobbling, and run stuffing that makes an excellent NFL defensive front.
The 6-foot-2 285-pound Desjuan Johnson begins on the initial Rams depth chart behind DL Aaron Donald and Larrell Murchison. While that may not seem like a great vantage point, it ensures that he will have a birds-eye view to observe and study Donald on virtually every play.
What I don't like about this pick
If the strategy was to replace the skillsets of either Greg Gaines or A'Shawn Robinson with this selection, the Rams missed the mark. Johnson is not the size of defensive lineman who can withstand repeated double-teaming at the point of attack. While he can still be effective, it could have a cascade effect of making inside linebacker Ernest Jones' life more difficult at plugging the holes.
What I like about this pick
The LA Rams defensive line is built upon the dogma of #DAWGWORK, and with so many rookies and young players in the pipeline, you have to like where the Rams defensive front is heading in the future. Like many new additions to the Rams DL, rookie Desjuan Johnson is one tough son-of-a-gun. A true Tazmanian Devil in the trenches, he routinely overpowers and outplays offensive linemen who are bigger than he is.
While not blessed with superior size, he leverages his uncanny agility to outmaneuver his opponent after the snap, and is often able to make the play as a result.
Desjuan Johnson is a work-a-holic, and there is nothing better for a rookie In Coach Henny's system than a young player who loves to put in the work.
What I love about this pick
As Mr. Irrelevant of the 2023 NFL Draft, the level of expectation for rookie DL Desjuan Johnson is next to nothing. That translates into a young man who will have plenty of opportunities to impress some folks. For the early games in the LA Rams 2023 season, Johnson may not get many opportunities. But over time, I have to believe that he will see some action.
While he may not put up the best measurables, he certainly stands out when the pads go on. And right now, the Rams are about to play their first of three preseason games. Will Desjuan Johnson show up? He certainly was able to in the past:
For the Rams, preseason games are only a small fraction of a player's overall assessment. And sitting as the eighth player on the Rams depth chart at defensive line, Desjuan Johnson has a lot of work to do to have any chance of earning a roster spot.
What are his chances of making the roster?
While he is unlikely to make the Rams 53-man roster, I do like his chances of making the Rams 16-man practice squad. He has the fire and determination that is an important prerequisite to flourish on the Rams defensive front. And the Rams will need depth on the defensive line, as the rotation requires a pretty rapid cycling through to ensure players remain fresh.
Desjuan Johnson faces the same challenges as many defensive linemen do on the Rams roster. That is, many of the detractions begin with the presumption that his size limits his NFL potential. I'm not convinced that will the case. But with a deep defensive front, Johnson may need to settle for the practice squad for now.