CHARLOTTE – After trading up with the Steelers to acquire the 80th pick in the third round of this year's draft, the Panthers chose to add a boost on the defensive side, selecting DJ Johnson, an outside linebacker from Oregon.
Johnson is a 6-foot-4, 260-pound linebacker who transferred to play for the Ducks after spending his freshman year at Miami. He spent six years in college, playing in 43 games as both an edge rusher and a tight end.
"It was definitely a nice thing to play in that position," Johnson said of his experience at tight end. "Allowed me to gain experience in doing stuff like that, where previously I might not have been able to do that primarily just playing defense. Being able to have experience on offense and defense, both physically and mentally. Being able to take the offensive and defensive play book at the same time definitely has prepared me for where I'm at now."
Johnson was an outside linebacker full-time in his final collegiate season last year. He tallied 39 tackles with 8.5 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks, one fumble recovery, one quarterback hit, and two pass breakups that year.
"I definitely feel like my best football is ahead of me," he said. "I have always taken a lot of steps from the end of the season to now to prepare and get better. I have been watching a lot of film from last year. Fixing little technique things, bad eye things. Then working on things like polishing your pass rush of your striking in the get off."
They made a move up from the 93rd overall pick in the third round, trading up to the 80th spot with the Steelers. They gave up a late fourth-round pick (132) to get there. The Panthers now have two picks Saturday, the 114th and 145th overall choices.
Johnson had visited the Panthers before the draft, so he was excited to see the 704 pop up on his phone.
"Me and my agent had a talk, I believe it was earlier today, about teams that I liked," he said. "This was one of the teams that I liked and wanted to go to. So, I seen the area code and my face lit up. I was juiced. Just walked in with the fam so they could hear the conversation that was going on. I am super excited. Super juiced. This is one of my dream spots for sure."
Johnson fills a need the Panthers have opposite two-time Pro Bowler Brian Burns, who underwent ankle surgery last week but is expected to make a full recovery before training camp. Carolina was likely to seek extra help for its defensive front regardless.
The Panthers are transitioning to a 3-4 base defense under new defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero. It's a scheme that benefits from multiple edge rushers who can get to the quarterback.
In addition to Burns, Johnson will also join Yetur Gross-Matos, Marquis Haynes Sr., and Amaré Barno on the depth chart.
"Brian Burns is a player that I watch and watched since he been in college at Florida State," Johnson said. "Being able to team up with him is dope. I'm getting excited, try to stay calm about it but it definitely, if anything makes me work even harder. Just getting ready to make sure that I can be on the other side of somebody so talented."
View photos of Oregon outside linebacker DJ Johnson, drafted by Carolina in the third round of the 2023 draft.