As the Cowboys shift their focus towards the regular season, the obvious goal is to head into September with the best roster possible. As it stands currently, the franchise arguably has one of the better starting units across the league. But what will make or break this year's squad is how they deal with the injuries that unfortunately will happen during the year. Having depth is paramount if this year’s team wants to make it to the promise land known as the Super Bowl.
The team drafted eight new players during the 2023 NFL Draft with hopes of not only supplying the roster with newfound depth, but also developing these players to potentially crack the starting lineup one day and replace players that have left the franchise in one way or another. Additionally, Dallas brought in 13 more players via the undrafted free agent market which brings the total to 21 rookies who will be competing to make this year’s Dallas Cowboys roster.
With teams across the NFL looking to stockpile their rosters with young, talented, and cost effective players; there is one area in particular that teams get excited over and that is along the edge. The Cowboys as an organization have continued to bring in a bountiful amount of rookies who check this particular box and possess attributes that the franchise would like to tap into and see if they can unlock a future gem.
Via this year’s draft, Dallas selected defensive end Viliami Fehoko Jr., in the fourth round. Adding Fehoko would be the lone addition along the edge during draft weekend. Even though they drafted just one edge player this year, the organization was quite busy adding edge players via the undrafted free agent market once the actual draft had concluded. They brought in three more players in hopes of creating even more competition at the position.
Of the three players added via the undrafted free agency market, there is one name that was a sneaky good addition, and could be a sleeper to look out for ahead of the regular season. That player is Durrell Johnson out of Liberty University.
Johnson, who was not a highly-touted prospect out of high school, would go the junior college route by enrolling at ASA College in Brooklyn, NY. After two successful seasons at the JUCO level in which he became an All-American, he would then enroll at Liberty University. Due to COVID, Johnson gained an extra year of eligibility. That extra year proved to be a good one for him as he would lead the nation by a good margin in tackles for loss with 27.5. The next closest was 22. Not only was he a force in getting to the backfield to make tackles for loss, but he would tally nine sacks during the year as well. By the time he was done at Liberty, he would rack up a total of 44 tackles for loss as well as 17.5 sacks. It was certainly a productive career with the Flames.
From an on-field perspective, the first thing that pops is how quickly he gets off the snap. This get off gives him quite the advantage against opposing offensive tackles more times than not. Even though his 40 time at his pro day was 4.69, he plays the game at a much fast pace which is due to his high motor and scrappy tendencies. His scrappy play shows up in the stat sheet given how many tackles for loss and sacks he had while at Liberty. In addition to his get off and high motor, his most NFL ready tool is his spin move. That spin move should do damage at the NFL level. In school, he was mostly deployed as a stand up edge rusher but also can drop back in coverage as well. His man-to-man coverage ability isn’t too shabby either.
With all the positives that Durrell Johnson brings to the field, there are reasons why he went undrafted. The first area worth noting is the level of competition he played at Liberty. There were times that the Flames would play Power Five programs but it wasn’t on a regular basis. Also there are concerns about his size, because depending on where you look he weighs between 237 and 250. If he is closer to the 250 mark then these concerns carry less weight, although he certainly could bulk up a little bit more regardless. Even though he gets off the ball fast, he doesn’t seem to have a lot of pass rushing tools developed in his tool box just yet. Johnson, more times than not, tries to bull rush the opposing lineman which worked out well for him in college, but at the pro level it more than likely will not. His tackles for loss numbers are more reflective of the high motor that he possesses, not his edge setting skills which he will want to refine in the NFL.
There is a lot to like about Durrell Johnson. He possesses high level traits that if molded properly could equate to a tremendous professional football player. That wicked first step, and spin move, give him a fair shot at getting there someday. However, that tool box needs to get filled up with abilities like being good and consistent at dipping below the opposing tackle and getting better with hand fighting. Based on the way Dan Quinn schemes up his defense, it appears that the weak side linebacker slot would be a good place to put him as he possesses enough speed and coverage ability where he isn’t a liability in this area. Before he even has a chance to crack the lineup someday, he will need to make the team from a special teams perspective. There is also a possibility of having him stashed on the practice squad as well with the hopes of having him not plucked from there by another franchise.
Overall, he is a developmental prospect who needs a professional season under his belt to potentially unlock a talented NFL player. Let’s hope that Durrell Johnson can at least be stashed for the time being because the traits are simply hard to ignore.
Here is a look at his senior season at Liberty: