What's next for DJ?

About a year ago at this time, we reviewed the sophomore season of Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson. There was one major negative – injury.

In 2006, Johnson missed all or part of five games with a high ankle sprain. It derailed what had initially been a promising season. A year later, what's the verdict on Johnson's future in the NFL?

Well, at least DJ stayed healthy this year. In 2007, Johnson started all 16 games for the Chiefs. That's important, because for someone whose style of play frequently entails running around the field with abandon while taking on larger men without hesitation, it's not always easy to stay healthy.

Beyond medical concerns, how did Johnson's third NFL season grade out? He didn't make the Pro Bowl, but here's a statistic (courtesy of stats.com) that's been completely ignored so far this offseason – Derrick Johnson recorded more tackles for loss than any linebacker who did make the Pro Bowl in 2007.

That's correct. Johnson's 14 "stuffs" didn't land him in Hawaii, but still counted on the box score over Pro-Bowl invitees Lance Briggs (12.5), DeMarcus Ware (8.5) and Lofa Tatupu (7.0). Johnson easily edged out human-growth poster boy Shawne Merriman (5.0) and former rookie of the year DeMeco Ryans (zero), among another names.

In fact, Johnson led the entire NFL in tackles for loss in 2007. Not just among linebackers, but out of every defender who played a down last season. Our crack team of statisticians here at Warpaint Illustrated have been working around the clock to verify this fact, and there's no question about it – no one in the NFL was better at penetrating the line of scrimmage and nailing ball carriers for a loss last season than Kansas City's own Derrick Johnson.

So why didn't he make the Pro Bowl? Well, there's certainly more to being an All-Pro than dumping running backs in the backfield, but there's something else at work here. As we noted last offseason in our review of Johnson's 2006 season, Pro Bowl invites and strongside linebackers in 4-3 schemes simply don't mix.

True to form, this year's crew of Hawaii-bound linebackers included five players who lined up outside in 3-4 schemes, four inside linebackers and two weakside ‘backers from 4-3 schemes. Even still, the fact that the NFC sent Briggs, while Johnson remained home, seems unfair. Johnson recorded more tackles for loss, more sacks, more passes defensed and more interceptions than his windy-city counterpart, and played on a statistically better defense.

It seems that DJ may have already arrived, if not in the mind of Pro Bowl voters. But where does he go from here? How about a few steps to his right?

Despite the fact he is listed as KC's starting strongside linebacker, a good chunk of Johnson's big-time plays last season came when he lined up on the opposite side of the field. Both of DJ's interceptions (at San Diego and against Denver) came from the right side of the defensive formation. At least half of his tackles for loss came from weakside penetration.

Why not move Johnson over permanently? The weakside is where he became famous at the University of Texas. Donnie Edwards would be more than comfortable covering tight ends on the strongside, and the pass-rush benefits of lining Johnson up behind defensive end Jared Allen are obvious.

Flip-flop the outside linebackers, and Johnson might just gain that elusive Pro Bowl berth in 2008, not to mention a fat new contract. How's that for something to look forward to?

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