Undrafted DE Will Push For Roster Spot

The Colts signed a free agent defensive end prospect that could give Marcus Howard and Josh Thomas a run for their money in training camp. Brad Keller has the details and analysis here.

Coming into the draft, many saw small school prospect Curtis Johnson as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme as opposed to the position he played at Clark Atlanta University — defensive end.

Scouts saw that he was a little small at 6 feet, 3 inches and 242 pounds to be lining up every down with his hand on the ground and that he would most likely have difficulty anchoring against the run at the NFL level.

Given the fact that he was a man without a position and played two seasons at Division III Morrisville State College before transferring to Division II Clark Atlanta, he went undrafted, but immediately became a priority free agent for the Colts, speaking to a number of other teams before settling on Indianapolis.

The primary reason for the interest in Johnson despite his lackluster 40 time of 4.78 seconds is his college production.

Even though it was against a lower level of competition, to say that Johnson dominated during his time at Morrisville State and Clark Atlanta would be an understatement.

In a total of 40 games at the collegiate level, he recorded 334 tackles, 39.5 sacks, 81.5 tackles for loss, 15 forced fumbles, nine fumble recoveries, eight blocked kicks, and he also scored three touchdowns.

So, for those of you keeping score at home, he averaged nearly a sack and two tackles for loss per game over the course of four seasons.  If you only consider his numbers at Clark Atlanta, they are still very impressive — 21 games, 18.5 sacks, 45 tackles for loss, three blocked kicks, 10 forced fumbles, and five fumble recoveries in addition to scoring all three of his touchdowns at the Division II level.

Johnson hops on a fumble during the East-West Shrine Game
AP Photo/Bob Levey

Regardless of the level of competition he faced, that is quite a resume and it is safe to say that Johnson is accustomed to authoring big plays and being in the backfield.

Scout.com's Tom Marino sees potential in Johnson and actually gave him a sixth-round grade in this year's draft — late sixth, early seventh.  "Johnson is a quick side end with good speed and playing range," Marino said.  "He's an effective rusher who can trim the edge and I really like the way he competed and finished plays.  He needs refinement, but definitely has the tools and intensity to play in the league.  At this point, he looks like a contributing backup that should be able to add bulk and strength to add bulk and strength to his frame."

At his current weight of 242 pounds, he's only three pounds lighter than Robert Mathis and seven pounds heavier than fifth round selection Marcus Howard, so with a little added bulk, he should fit into the defensive scheme well and, since he played both right and left end in college, be able to back up both positions.

The issue is this: With Dwight Freeney, Josh Thomas, and Mathis already entrenched at their position and virtually assured roster spots, there is essentially only one spot up for grabs.  The Colts typically carry four ends and five tackles throughout the course of the season — the fact that Raheem Brock can play end in a pinch gives them the flexibility to expand their tackle rotation but limits the number of spots available at the end position.

That basically means that the fourth roster spot will come down to a three-way competition between Howard, Johnson, and Jeff Charleston.

While Charleston has experience in the system, he's also more expensive as a veteran player and doesn't have the upside that Johnson and Howard possess.

The good news for Johnson, though, even if the Colts end up keeping five players at the position, is that Indianapolis has shown in the past that they will give the roster spot or starting nod to the best player, as evidenced by the fact that they awarded the starting job at right defensive tackle to Ed Johnson over veteran free agent acquisition Dan Klecko and third-round selection Quinn Pitcock.

Johnson will receive a fair shot at a roster spot and has the skills and athletic ability to make it happen.  As an undrafted free agent, it's going to be a tough battle for him, but, at this point, he's got the same shot as everyone else.  He just needs to make the most of it.

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