Tarik Cohen, Darius Leonard… is Darryl Johnson up next?

Why Darryl Johnson is ready to be the NFL’s next HBCU sensation.

By Will Dean
June 18, 2019

ATLANTA – With OTA’s and Mini Camps in the rearview mirror and NFL Training Camps across
the country fast approaching, former North Carolina A&T defensive end and two-time
Celebration Bowl Champion Darryl Johnson is prepping for a breakout rookie season with the
Buffalo Bills. In addition to being a part of two consecutive Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl
winning teams, Johnson added a Defensive Player of the Year award and a nomination for
Black College Football Player of the Year to his long list of accolades in the 2018/19 season.

So how does Johnson plan to translate his success in the college game to a career in the NFL?

In an exclusive interview with The Undefeated’s Mark W. Wright, Johnson emphasized the
importance of setting goals. He remembers telling coaches and media about his plans to lead
the MEAC in sacks, make first-team all-conference, and win Defensive Player of the Year.
Johnson accomplished each of these goals in his standout junior season, and now he has
similarly lofty goals for his rookie season in the NFL. “I want my name to be right there as a guy
who left A&T early, went to the NFL, and being (in the) Rookie of the Year conversation”.

Johnson cites Chicago Bears running back and 2015 Celebration Bowl Offensive MVP Tarik
Cohen along with Indianapolis Colts linebacker and 2017 MEAC SWAC Challenge Defensive
MVP Darius Leonard as key role models for himself and other aspiring NFL Players who
choose to attend Historically Black Colleges & Universities. “When guys like Tarik and Darius
win, we all win — and it’s nice to see the NFL Players Association recognize that by selecting
them as the 2019 recipients of the Black College Football Pro Players of the Year.”

Fascinatingly, in his senior year of high school Johnson almost found himself without any
options at all. According to Nate Mendelson of the Buffalo Bills, Johnson suffered an injury his
senior year that scared off most Division I college football programs. By signing day, North
Carolina A&T was the only scholarship offer still on the table.

“Man, without A&T, I really don’t know where I’d be right now,” Johnson said. “I’d be in college
somewhere, but I probably wouldn’t be playing football.”

Johnson promised to repay North Carolina A&T’s trust in him, and with all the aforementioned
accolades in mind, it’s fair to say the university’s investment in Darryl Johnson was met with
more than a healthy return. Now Johnson is taking that same grit and perennial chip on his
shoulder to the NFL.

After making all the college scouts who lost interest in him look silly by taking off at A&T,
Johnson faces a new set of doubters at the next level. In spite of all his accomplishments,
some NFL scouts expressed concerns over his size and strength, as he slipped into the
seventh round of the 2019 NFL Draft. But Johnson points towards a couple of other undersized
and underrated HBCU stars who proved all their “haters” wrong:

“I know the [NFL] scouts will label me as small and below average in size for a defensive end
(at 6-5, 232 pounds) they told that to Tarik Cohen (and) Darius Leonard too…”

With each of these “undersized” HBCU alumni receiving Pro Bowl and Defensive Rookie of the
Year honors respectively last year, Darryl Johnson feels he is primed to follow in their footsteps.
The Buffalo Bills will hope that Johnson can do just that, by replicating his odds-defying
production and extending his cinderella story at the NFL level. At this point, don’t bet against it.