Linebacker Derrick Johnson
As the saying goes, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, and Derrick Johnson is looking to finish his career in a big way.
The former No. 15 overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft entered the league as one of the most-highly touted prospects in the country, and it didn’t take long for him to establish himself in the league as a reliable playmaker on defense.
Ever since he entered the league, Johnson has been a starter (he’s started in 169 games), and while he was successful in the early goings of his career, it wasn’t until his seventh season that he finally gained the recognition he deserved, earning his first All-Pro nod, and Pro Bowl selection at 29 years old. He’d go on to add three more Pro Bowls to his résumé, but was never able to capture the thing he’s always wanted, a Super Bowl Ring.
Over the course of 13 seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, Johnson totaled 14 interceptions, four touchdowns, 77 passes defensed, 22 forced fumbles, eight fumble recoveries, 27.5 sacks, and 1,151 tackles, as well as six playoff starts.
Regardless of his production over the years, the Chiefs and Johnson parted ways this offseason, but the veteran linebacker wasn’t without a team long; enter Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie and Head Coach Jon Gruden.
The duo added a wealth of postseason experience to the Raiders roster this offseason, and adding another veteran linebacker with an ability to finish was an easy decision. It wasn’t just a no-brainer for McKenzie and Gruden, joining the Silver and Black made sense to Johnson for a number of reasons.
“It’s the perfect time to be a Raider,” he said. “A lot of new things are going on, and it’s all about opportunity. Here, at the Oakland Raiders, I have the opportunity to do something great, and that’s winning a ring at the end of the day. I’m not chasing anything else, but a ring.”
Gruden has emphasized his desire to seek out “finishers” in free agency, players that can bring a vital element to a relatively young Raiders roster. Johnson identifies with this philosophy, and believes he can help the Raiders close out games in 2018.
“That means a lot to be a finisher, that’s in all aspects of life,” Johnson said. “To be a finisher you have to have a lot of grit in you, and coming towards the end of my career I’ve got a lot left in the tank. Finisher doesn’t mean, ‘oh he has a little bit, he’s trying to put icing on the cake.’ I’m trying to make a big splash. I’m still playing at a high level, and to be on a team with Jon Gruden and the guys he has here, it’s going to be a special time for us.”
At 35 years old, many were quick to write off the four-time Pro Bowler, but he’s prepared to prove the naysayers wrong yet again, and show that he’s ready to kick things into high gear. He’ll now bring his veteran leadership, and playoff experience to a young Raiders nucleus, led by quarterback Derek Carr and defensive end Khalil Mack, who are just as hungry to win as he is.
“How I’m going to lead this special Raiders team, this young Raiders team is by example,” he said. “They have to see me do things right, not only talk, but actually see me in action on the field, off the field, doing things the right way. In my playbook, making sure everybody mentally is ready to go. We have some special guys on this team, I don’t know everybody yet, but I’m telling you what, this team is going to be very interesting this year.”
In his final chapter, Johnson’s only goal is distinct, and it’s the only finish line he has in sight.