Defensive tackle Desjuan Johnson could have made his peace with going undrafted, but instead the Los Angeles Rams used the last and 259th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft to select him, forever branding Johnson as a Mr. Irrelevant for this year. Now we will see what type of legacy Desjuan will build for himself and though he has a new nickname, will he make the Rams roster?
There is an origin to the NFL moniker “Mr. Irrelevant.” The long story short is that Paul Salata, a former NFL player, coined the term. Salata’s daughter, Melanie Fitch, is the current CEO of Irrelevant Week and she announced Desjuan Johnson being selected in the most recent NFL Draft.
I like the explanation of the term Mr. Irrelvent given by Fitch, who before announcing Johnson’s selection says that her father felt it was irrelevant whether you were drafted first or last, and that it was an honor to be drafted.
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It’s fair to say that Johnson met with a number of teams. That can be normal during the draft process, what is not as normal is to go last in the draft. That can only happen once per year. Can’t help but wonder if LA was worried where he might go as an undrafted player and if they made moves to ensure he didn’t go undrafted. They also clearly felt they could wait it out, and they were right.
Desjuan played his entire collegiate career at Toledo, and he is originally from Detroit so he seemingly wanted to stay in Michigan. It’s interesting given the amount of players that bounce around from school to school. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, and I certainly have not looked at hundreds of thousands of colligate athletes, but Johnson playing is entire collegiate career at Toledo stood out to me.
It seems like he enjoyed his time in Toledo being a student athlete and helping to support his community. I think it’s fair to say that Toledo didn’t only appreciate Desjuan for his community outreach.
He also delivered on the field. A basic look at his stats at Toledo and the numbers show a player that got better each year. Of course the numbers don’t tell the entire story.
You can read a profile for Johnson here. There is a strengths and concerns section. The first strength listed involves his pound for pound strength, and first the concern listed involves a lack of size. So on the one hand you have a player that plays above his size and uses his body. On the other hand he’s a player that may not be big enough to excel at the NFL level.
I couldn’t help but think of what Brock Purdy’s (last year’s Mr. Irrelevant) profile from NFL.com looked like, if you are curious click here. At the end of the day, we can say all types of anecdotes about players but what really matters is how they do in practice and eventually on the field. In Purdy’s case, he took his opportunity and absolutely ran with it. There’s a whole assortment of Mr. Irrelevant players drafted over the years, and I am confident saying some have had longer NFL careers than the players taken before them.
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Purdy came into the league and there perhaps was a chance he didn’t stay on a roster, but now I would guess he’ll be in the NFL for a while. Desjuan has a chance to show that he belongs in the NFL. Johnson’s profile says that he is a an “average backup or special teams player”. Right now he is fighting for a spot on an NFL roster, and he has an opportunity to do so much more, but he will have to overcome long odds.
He gushes over Aaron Donald and Johnson brought Donald up several times during his press conference after being drafted. Donald is saying the right things and seems willing to help any player he can, so hopefully he and the coaching staff can help get the most out of Desjuan.
Johnson doesn’t seem bothered by being drafted last and seems to believe that he’ll prove he belongs. He also seems aware that life and the NFL can be filled with obstacles. Desjuan lost his father, who played college football and was trying to stick to a NFL roster, at a young age. Desjuan’s story can be heavy, and filled with tragedy.
Johnson seemingly grew up in some tougher areas of Detroit, but he found a way to makei through and play football. Johnson admits he can feel down at times, and its seems indescribable the amount of loss this young man has been through, but he keeps pushing forward. Around November in 2022, before the draft Desjuan said:
“My dream always started with me trying to be like my dad and follow in his footsteps and be better than him. Walk in his boots, so to speak, and finish taking the steps he couldn’t,” said Desjuan. “When the NFL and stuff started to come into the picture for me, I started to feel like I can really get there. I’ve just stuck with it and kept going.
“The NFL, that’s huge right there. That’s the big dream.”
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Mr. Irrelevant became hugely relevant last season because of Purdy’s success with the San Francisco 49ers, but so far he is an anomaly and not an expectation. For Johnson, the need is simply to make the team in 2023 and then to go from there. Whether he is relevant or not is not even a question: He’s in the NFL and he’s got a chance to stay there.
Same as the first 258 picks.