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BAM! Darryl Johnson and the Buffalo Youth Movement

Darryl Johnson has been a special teams player for the past two seasons. Now in year three, he and the rest of the young guys are ready.

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You may have never heard of the name Darryl Johnson, but there is a good chance you’ve heard him hit somebody on the football field. Nicknamed, “Bam” at a young age due to his high energy, Johnson has made his childhood nickname one that translates onto the football field. He may be a relatively unknown player in the National Football League, but for Johnson, that’s exactly how he likes it.

Coming out of high school from Kingsland, Georgia Johnson was an unknown recruit who had had no interest from any division one programs. The only school that offered Johnson an opportunity was North Carolina A&T. A historically black college (know as an HBCU) located in Greensboro, North Carolina with a student population of about 10,000. Not exactly the football powerhouse you’d expect an NFL player to come out of. For Johnson, he loved playing an HBCU as it played a huge role in his life.

“It means a lot, that really was my only option… I took it and I ran with it,” said Johnson. “I love coming out of an HBCU, I love it, I’ll never regret it. It was probably the best decision of my life.”

While at North Carolina A&T Johnson had a very successful career, good enough where he left a year early to declare for the draft. He had 2.0 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss playing in more of a reserve role in 2016 before getting 6.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss as a starter in 2017. As a junior, he was named MEAC Defensive Player of the Year after racking up 10.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss and earned first-team FCS All-American honors.

Darryl Johnson rushes the passer while playing for North Carolina A&T (Credit to the Undefeated)

Despite Johnson’s outstanding senior season, his name was rarely talked about by draft analysts. For example here is what NBC Sports had for Johnson’s scouting report:

Despite impressive numbers, Johnson needs significant development, as he’s a one-trick pony who feasted on over-matched tackles with an outside speed move. He lacks the bend and flexibility to beat NFL tackles with that move regularly, but he has little else in his bag of tricks. Against the run, Johnson is mostly a splash player, getting washed out of his lane with regularity, so he could struggle to earn snaps.

Projection: Sixth Round

For Johnson, he had heard it all. All the doubts and disbelief, that he could not make it in the NFL:

“I heard a lot of, “you might not get drafted, you only had 10 sacks,” and, “Man you small,” all of that was just putting chips on my shoulders.”

Unfortunately for Johnson, misfortune would strike. Johnson was invited to the scouting combine and had a chance to put on a show for all 32 teams. However, while doing the bench press Johnson pulled his hamstring.

“I could feel it just pull, but I can’t stop here.”

Johnson, who had never done more than 15 reps in training, would put up 20 reps with a bad hamstring. Although it was impressive, Johnson lost his chance to put his name on the map. Though he lost a big opportunity at the combine, Johnson was still optimistic about his NFL future.

Aug 8, 2019; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills defensive end Darryl Johnson (92) pressures Indianapolis Colts quarterback Phillip Walker (5) during the second quarter at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

On draft night Johnson would hear name after name called, while he remained to wait for the call of a lifetime. As the draft went on Johnson could tell his mother was getting upset for her son. Although Johnson wasn’t sure if he would get drafted he had one message to his family:

“I’m going to get an opportunity,” said Johnson, “when I do I’m going to advantage of it.”

Then, as Johnson sat with his family, in the seventh round with the 225th pick, Johnson got a call from the Bills.

“It was the seventh round and the Buffalo Bills called my name and the whole house just went crazy.”

While Johnson’s entire family was filled with excitement, relief, and pure joy, Johnson had one thought in his mind: It’s time to go to work.

Johnson was excited to go to Buffalo. It didn’t bother him who drafted him, he was just happy to hear his name called. As he got ready to go to Buffalo he knew one thing, he was going to bring everything he had to be the best player he could be.

He would need to make the roster. Johnson would be battling against veteran players who have been in the league for years. Not only would he have to beat out veterans, but he would have to make it through cuts. 90 players to 53 players. Although training camp can be a stressful time for any player who may not have a secured roster spot, Johnson enjoyed every minute of it and never let the stress get to him.

Oct 6, 2019; Nashville, TN, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) is sacked by Buffalo Bills defensive end Darryl Johnson (92) during the second half at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

“I was just there having fun,” Johnson said, “Not really paying attention to who’s getting cut.”

Johnson would remarkably make the team as a seventh-round pick, a feat not many outside of Johnson saw coming. Through two years Johnson has been a core special teams player. Something uncommon for a six foot six, 260-pound defensive linemen. Now going into his third year, Johnson is ready to put it all together and be the freaky player that he’s shown on occasion that he can be.

“Year three is a whole different mentality,” said Johnson. “All that potential needs to go out the window, it’s time to perform now.” 

He knows he can be a great player in the NFL because he’s heard from guys in the locker room. Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison have taken Johnson under their wings. Johnson is grateful for them and because of them, he knows he can take a big leap this year.

“Jerry a lot, It’s been Mario. Both of those guys have been telling me, you can do it, you just got to do it,” said Johnson, “They both have been telling me that I got everything.”

It’s not just Johnson who’s ready to take a big step in 2021; it’s all of the young defensive linemen on the Bills. From A.J. Epenesa and Ed Oliver to even Mike Love, all of the young guys on the defensive line have one thing in mind this season.

“Energy, getting to the spot,” Johnson said, “That’s our main focus this year, just getting to the spot, getting the quarterback off his spot.”

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