Former Ole Miss linebacker is in Oxford prior to the NFL Draft next week

C.J. Johnson is back in Oxford these days. 

Think of it as the calm before the storm.

Johnson has spent the last few months preparing for the NFL Draft, which will kickoff with the first round next Thursday in Chicago, Ill. Every waking minute has been filled with workouts, team interviews and everything in between. 

Safe to say some time spent among familiar faces and comfortable surroundings is a welcomed reprieve, especially considering what’s coming next.

“It’s really nerve-racking,” Johnson said. “You’ve dreamed about this since you were a kid, trying to fulfill a dream. It’s always been mind. I’m kind of nervous to kind of see where I end up. I feel pretty good about getting drafted right now. My main thing is regardless of wherever I end up, whoever gets me is going to get a really good football player who’s willing to learn more and learn the most I can learn behind whoever I can learn from to be the best player I can be.”

His cell phone hasn’t, literally, stopped ringing, though it’s felt that way at times. Friday was a busy day for calls. Johnson, a now-former Ole Miss Rebel, is hearing from a good many teams. When or if he gets drafted, however, remains unclear.

“I know I’ll be in a good spot,” he said. “It’s just a matter of the speculation of where you’re going to get drafted. That’s the weirdest part for me, because I got a lot of feedback, but I haven’t really gotten as much as I would like. You never really know how everything’s working out with people trading in the draft and all that. There’s a lot of stuff to really play out. You never know how it’s going to go.”

A lot can happen between now and next week. Former Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil all but had his bags packed for Tennessee before the Titans and Los Angeles Rams swapped the No. 1 and No. 15 picks, respectively, a week ago. And just yesterday, the Philadelphia Eagles traded up to No. 2 in another blockbuster.

Johnson can only control what he can control. He believes he helped his cause at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, and continued his quest to turn heads at Ole Miss pro day in late-March. He’s got production on his side, too. Johnson appeared in 51 games over a five-year Rebel career, totaling 180 total tackles, including 43 in 10 games last season.

“I think it probably went pretty well for me,” he said of the draft process. “Me and my agent, we’ve got a great plan. He set out a great plan for me, and I think we pretty much did everything within that plan. Right now I’m in a good spot to get drafted in the middle rounds. Before the combine there were a lot of people who said I wasn’t even going to get drafted. After the combine, to get a third-to-fifth round projection, I think that’s pretty good.”

Ole Miss will send three players to Chicago for the first round of the draft in Tunsil, wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche. At some point, whether it’s Thursday or early Friday, each will hear their name called over the loudspeaker. They’ll don a hat, grab a jersey and bear hug NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and off they’ll go to begin the next chapter in their lives. A spectacle it will surely be.

Johnson doesn’t really have any plans for the draft right now — where he’ll be, whether he’ll hold a party or whatever. Some of his immediate family will be there, for sure, but the rest will work itself out.

For now, he’s home again in Oxford. And there’s nowhere else he’d rather be.

“It’s always great to be here,” he said. “I love staying in Oxford. Just being back and going to the facilities to work out and stuff like that, it’s great. And as far as being involved and around the team and coming back to visit with coaches and stuff like that, that will always happen. 

“It’s just calm. You don’t have to worry about going to class. You’re just preparing for the biggest job interview of your life.”

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