Ferris State's Devon Johnson looking to continue improbable rise to NFL

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Devon Johnson of Ferris State measured 6-foot-7, 338 pounds at the NFL Combine.

Indianapolis — It had been nearly three decades since Ferris State sent a player to the NFL scouting combine before offensive lineman Devon Johnson scored an invite this year. 

Not bad for a player who claims he started just one game in high school. 

Johnson is a mountain of a man, measuring in at 6-foot-7, 338 pounds this week. So how does a kid that big not crack the top of the depth chart in high school or draw more eyes as a college recruit?

It wasn't because the growth spurt came late. Johnson said he was already 6-foot-7 by his senior year, tipping the scales at 285 pounds. And while he felt he was deserving of more than sporadic time, the mild-mannered Johnson wasn't the type to argue his case.

"I just felt like arguing wasn't going to solve anything," Johnson said at the combine on Thursday. "I didn't want to get kicked off the team because I love football so much and I loved my teammates."

Johnson said he earned his one start when a teammate suffered an injury and according to him, he "wrecked it" in the game against East Aurora (Ill.).

Devon Johnson of Ferris State

Whether it was that contest or stepping in as a mid-game replacement, he always wanted to be known as a player who never wasted an opportunity. 

"I felt like every time I stepped on the field and I had  my opportunity to get on the field, third quarter, fourth quarter, it was going to be a highlight," Johnson said. "If he's going to put me on this field, I'm going to take advantage of it. I'm not going to be come out here and mess up, miss a play or have him second-guess and put the third-string or fourth-string person in. I'm out here, it's my time to shine and that's what I did."

Johnson advertised himself during the recruiting process by attending college camps. It was after a camp at Ferris State he earned an offer.

The match turned out to be an ideal marriage. 

Ferris State tapped into Johnson's potential and he earned All-GLIAC all four seasons, culminating with All-American honors in 2018. After participating in the NFLPA All-Star game, he's now on the doorstep of the NFL. It's a dream he realized was a reality when former teammates Jason Vander Laan, Justin Zimmer, Jake Lampman and Zach Sieler got NFL looks in recent years.  

Johnson isn't a lock to be drafted. His best bet is to be taken in the late rounds, but even if he doesn't hear his name called, his size and athleticism will likely be enough for him to get a serious look as a developmental prospect on a practice squad. 

"Massive right tackle-only project with size traits that could endear him to teams deep at tackle and willing to wait on his development," NFL analyst Lance Zierlein wrote in a pre-draft profile. "Johnson is way behind in terms of technique and level of competition so a two-year stay on a practice squad might be a reasonable timeline. He needs to prove he can fire out as a drive-blocker and cut off the edge in pass protection. If a staff can coach him up in those areas, he could find an NFL roster, but his road figures to be bumpy."

And Johnson doesn't reflect negatively on his experience at Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora, Ill. In fact, he loved it and said he hopes to donate to his alma mater. He believes his lack of playing time and recognition have fueled him to get to this point. 

"You see where I am right now, sitting here talking to you," Johnson said. "I can't be upset with (coach Paul Murphy). I'm glad he did it. I feel like it made me work harder and humbled me a lot. Me being the biggest person in high school, you'd think the biggest person is going to start. That wasn't the deal for me. Him doing that to me made me work even harder and made me want to play football even more."

At the combine, Johnson can admit he's taking in and enjoying the moment. Whichever NFL team ultimately takes a chance on him, he promises he'll be the guy that works hard and never takes a play off.

And no matter the heights his professional career may reach, he doesn't have any interest in rubbing his success in to those who doubted his abilities. 

"I've had people that doubted me and stuff like that, but there's not once I looked back and pointed a finger like, 'Ha, look at where I'm at right now.' Why do that? I feel like that's only making me less of a person."


Twitter: @Justin_Rogers