PHILADELPHIA – The deck is stacked against seventh-round draft picks, with low odds of making a roster let alone making an impact.
It’s been done, and the Eagles have had some good ones who have arrived in that round, such as Hall of Famer Harold Carmichael (1971) and, more recently, Beau Allen (2014), and Jalen Mills (2016).
Still, every day is scratch-and-claw, doing whatever you can to show something that will catch a coach’s eye.
It’s Patrick Johnson’s turn now. He was the 234th overall player taken in the 2021 NFL Draft.
He has some lofty goals. Think Reggie White-sized ones.
Johnson grew up in Chattanooga, Tenn., attended Notre Dame High School, just a five-minute drive from where White played high school ball at The Howard School.
“I was very, very familiar with him,” said Johnson. “Just actually playing on his field where he went to high school, that was a pretty cool opportunity, but his whole legacy in Chattanooga, he was a great player. Hopefully, I can be just like him if not better. So, just come in here, work hard and try to be like him.”
Johnson will take his first step, one of presumably dozens or more, toward what he hopes will be a career that will survive the test of time on Friday when the Eagles’ three-day rookie camp commences.
Already, he gets points for compassion and desire, and maybe those two things will be enough, though talent will also have to shine through at some point.
“I feel like most definitely my playing ability and stuff like that I can definitely make an immediate impact here for the Eagles and hopefully win a championship here, so just come in here every single day and just bust my tail and just try to do the best I can for the team,” said Johnson.
At Tulane, he flashed plenty of ability, playing 49 games in four years, with 92 solo tackles, 40 tackles for loss, 24.5 sacks, and six forced fumbles.
The American Athletic Conference isn’t the NFL, though.
Nevertheless, the Eagles appear high on Johnson, especially linebackers coach Nick Rallis, who has been working with the 6-2, 240-pound Johnson at that position.
“Coaches definitely want to use me all over the field,” said Johnson. “I’m an athletic guy, so just taking advantage of my athletic ability. I’m still trying to figure out what exactly we’re going to be doing here in Philadelphia.
“Talking to coach Nick Rallis, I’ve been in the playbook with him a lot and learning more and more every single day.”
Asked to elaborate what being used all over the field might entail, Johnson said: “I’ve been looked at as a defensive end, middle linebacker. I’m still trying to learn like you all are trying to figure out, exactly how they’re going to use me. I’m most definitely trying to figure things out and just learning the playbook.”
Johnson certainly offers position flexibility, and he’s no stranger to special teams, an area where most seventh-rounders have to prove they belong before being given more responsibility.
“If you sit down and watch my film, I’ve done a lot of stuff in coverage, covering backs, having to cover tight ends,” he said. “Sometimes I have to take a back man out in the slot, stuff like that, so I’m very versatile as a player.
“Not only that, but I can also play special teams. My head coach in college, he makes sure I was involved in every single special team, so you’re going to see me all over the field definitely making plays.”
Following in Reggie White's mammoth footsteps will be a challenge, but that doesn't mean Johnson can't make an impact as a seventh-rounder, the way center Jim Ringo did for the Packers in 1953, Bo Jackson did for the Raiders in 1987, and tight end Shannon Sharpe did with the Broncos in 1990, among others.
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s EagleMaven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.