The Miami Dolphins owned one of the league’s more questionable run defenses in 2013 after owning one of the league’s best for three straight seasons up to that point. Many, including myself, pointed fingers at the linebackers due to their inability to tackle well. Miami made a few key additions at linebacker this season, including undrafted rookie free agent linebacker Derrell Johnson of East Carolina.
Johnson, a stout 6-foot-1, 248 pounds, played incredibly well throughout his time with East Carolina, playing both defensive end and rush-outside linebacker in the squad’s 3-4 defense. He led the team in tackles during 2013 with 80 tackles in 13 starts and an astounding 14 tackles for a loss. Johnson also collected 8 sacks in 2013, which is likely why Miami was attracted to him during the post-draft process.
Johnson is obviously an experienced starter, as he started all four-years with East Carolina and has the versatility needed to be a valuable player for an NFL squad. Johnson plays well in coverage and can use his punch to jam backs and tight ends off their routes. He plays the run well and uses his brute strength to set the edge quite well. He is extremely tough, durable and plays with aggression, which is something Miami’s defense has been lacking.
Johnson is quite undersized for the position at the next level and has short limbs, which allow blockers to get into his body too easily. He also must work on his tackling, as he misses too many tackles, especially players with some speed or shiftiness to their game as he is very tight hipped.
Johnson has a long road ahead of him in making Miami’s 53-man squad. The team has a ton of talent with incumbent starters Koa Misi, Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, who are backed up by players such as Jelani Jenkins, Jason Trusnik, Jonathan Freeny and rookie LB Jordan Tripp. Johnson may be able to stick if he can carve out a role on special teams, but if he cannot, expect the team to stash the versatile linebacker on their practice squad.