Saints Rookie Rufus Johnson Has Opportunity in Preseason

Will a rookie injection make way for a defensive rebirth? - Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

Is the next great pass rusher disguised as a small school unknown?

Welcome to the final training camp installment of the Rookie Run-Down!

We have already reviewed the New Orleans Saints' first four picks and now will take a look at the teams' fifth pick. We have the rookie outside linebacker Rufus Johnson, who was taken in the 6th round with the 183rd pick. The series will continue each week during the regular season, with a weekly breakdown of how each rookie draft pick is performing. With the preseason underway, there will be plenty of new information to process and I cannot wait to analyze it all!

Getting drafted by the New Orleans Saints has put Rufus Johnson in a great position. He gets the opportunity to play with some standout defensive veterans including Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, and Curtis Lofton. Johnson stands 6'4" and weighs 266-pounds and is a converted defensive end who has the athleticism to be a pass rushing force, if he is given the time to develop.

Prior to his two seasons at Tarleton State, Johnson completed two seasons as a defensive end at Kilgore Junior College and collected 33 tackles and 15.5 sacks. The raw numbers indicate that when Johnson gets penetration, he makes the play in the backfield. As a defensive end for Tarleton State, Johnson enjoyed a great senior season while compiling 50 total tackles with 17.5 of those for a loss. The raw numbers indicate that when Johnson gets penetration, he makes the play in the backfield. To bolster those stats, Rufus also tallied 10 sacks in his senior season with the Texans. His collegiate totals with Tarleton State are eye-popping: 96 tackles, 33 TFL, and 23 sacks in 20 games. I'd say he made his presence felt on a weekly basis!

In spite of solid numbers in college, as with most small school athletes, many will question the competition that the statistics were compiled against. Truthfully, that's a valid argument, but regardless of who is lined up across from a player, he still needs to do his job. Heading into organized team activities, Johnson was at the low end of the depth chart looking up at players like Smith, Victor Butler, Junior Galette, and Martez Wilson. Injuries to Butler and Wilson have catapulted Rufus into a position to make a move on one of the outside linebacker spots. As it stands, the front runners to man the "Jack" linebacker position are Will Smith and Johnson, with the veteran Smith having the edge.

However, if Johnson can turn some heads with solid pass rushing and coverage, he could very well move up to number one "Jack-backer." Realistically, Smith will be given every opportunity to keep or lose the starting job and Wilson's return from injury could keep Rufus in a limited role this season. But with the chance to show what he can do, expect Rufus to go down swinging.

Based on his previous performance and physical resemblance to DeMarcus Ware, I can see the possible shine that Rob Ryan may have on Johnson. It is worth noting that Ware, a feared pass rusher, also emerged from a small school and we see how that turned out. As much I hate to give the Cowgirls boys credit for anything, I wouldn't mind the Saints having the next D-Ware on the roster. So let's all sit back, relax, and hope Rufus can, "Shooooow us something good!"

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