Coming out of high school, not many, if any, high-level recruiters knew who Josh Johnson was. The Oakland native was coming off a terrific senior season at Oakland Tech High School, where he passed for 1,900 yards and 22 touchdowns and led his team to an Oakland Athletic League Championship.
Johnson was a phenomenal athlete in high school.
On top of being the school’s varsity quarterback, he also played basketball and participated in track. Despite being extremely athletic, scouts had concerns about Johnson’s ability to play quarterback at the next level. These doubts showed, as there were barely any schools that expressed interest in Johnson playing quarterback for their team. Outside of the University of San Diego, St. Mary’s and Idaho State were some of the only other schools to show interest in him.
Johnson ultimately decided to attend the University of San Diego, a decision that would pay off greatly for him. He backed up Todd Mortensen his freshman season, but did end up completing 12 passes for 135 yards. Following Mortensen’s departure, Johnson would take full control of the Toreros’ offense.
In his three seasons as the starting quarterback, Johnson was absolutely dominant. He would earn All-American honors in each of the next three seasons and finished third in the Walter Payton Award voting his senior season. Johnson finished his collegiate career completing 68% of his passes for 9,699 yards, 113 touchdowns, and only 15 interceptions. He also added 1,864 rushing yards on 307 attempts and 19 touchdowns. The Toreros earned their first ever Top 25 ranking in school history with Johnson as their quarterback and he also retired with the highest career passer efficiency (176.68) in Division-1 football history.
Despite playing at a small school, Johnson was an intriguing draft prospect for many teams in the 2008 NFL draft. His college numbers certainly helped, but his impressive NFL combine may have been the only reason why Johnson was actually drafted. His 40-yard dash time (4.53) and vertical leap (33 1/2″) were the highest amongst the quarterbacks in 2008 and showed that Johnson was a legitimate athlete. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers ended up taking a shot on Johnson, selecting him in the 5th round with the 160th pick in the 2008 NFL draft.
Johnson made his first career appearance in 2009 against the New York Giants when he replaced Byron Leftwich in the fourth quarter of a blowout. He would go on to make his first career start the following week against the Washington Redskins and started a total of four games in 2009. In 2010, Johnson operated as the primary backup to Josh Freeman and failed to record a start.
When Freeman went down in 2011, Johnson slid right in and made his only start of the season against the Panthers. The team ultimately got blown out, and with Freeman returning the next week, Johnson returned to his role as the team’s backup quarterback.
After his contract expired, the Buccaneers elected to not bring back Johnson. He signed a two-year deal with the San Fransisco 49ers in 2012, but would ultimately be one of the team’s final roster cuts prior to the season beginning.
Over the course of the next six seasons, Johnson spent time with the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the UFL and nine NFL teams. His only NFL appearance came with the Cleveland Browns in 2012, where Johnson played only one snap against the Steelers that resulted in a fumble. After bouncing around from team to team and not seeing any game action since 2012, Johnson’s NFL career seemed over.
Then, the Alliance of American Football was created and the San Diego Fleet was born. In the first-ever AAF draft, the San Diego Fleet held the first pick and decided to “protect” former USD star Josh Johnson. After not playing a meaningful down of football in almost six years, Johnson was poised for a fresh start in an intriguing up-and-coming league. Vegas named him the odds-on favorite to win the first ever AAF MVP award and it looked like Johnson would finally have an opportunity to revive his football career.
Less than a week after being drafted by the Fleet, Johnson would get another opportunity to play in the NFL. After losing both Alex Smith and Colt McCoy to leg injuries, the Washington Redskins were left with only Mark Sanchez on their depth chart. In a desperation move for a backup quarterback, the team signed Josh Johnson to a contract for the remainder of the 2018 season.
The signing of Johnson stirred controversy throughout the NFL world. People were confused why a team that, at the time, was still in playoff contention, would elect to sign a player that had not thrown an NFL pass since 2011 over someone with more recent experience, like Colin Kaepernick. With Mark Sanchez fully expected to be the starter for the remainder of the season, however, Johnson’s streak of inactivity seemed inevitable to stay alive.
This quickly changed, however, as Redskins head coach Jay Gruden benched Mark Sanchez in an embarrassing blowout loss to the New York Giants. Johnson would enter the game and, although he was unable to bring the team back, managed to complete 11 of his 16 passes for 195 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. He also put his athleticism on display, running for 45 yards on seven attempts for a touchdown.
His play was good enough for head coach Jay Gruden to name him the starter for the Redksins week 15 matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Despite their struggles this season, the Jaguars still possess one of the NFL’s elite defenses and would be no easy task for Johnson. Playing with a battered offensive line and depleted receiving core, a victory for Johnson seemed unlikely.
Just like he has for his entire football career, Josh Johnson overcame adversity once again. He would complete 16 of his 25 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown. On the ground, Johnson ran the ball nine times for 49 yards. Johnson failed to turn the ball over once against one of the NFL’s best defenses and led the Redskins to a 16-13 victory on the road. Approximately nine years after making his first NFL start, Josh Johnson finally earned his first NFL victory as a starting quarterback.
With two more games left on their schedule, the Redskins playoff hopes are still alive and the team should continue to roll with Johnson as their starting quarterback. Primarily known as a journeyman quarterback, and nothing more than a backup, Johnson has the opportunity to bring the Redskins into the playoffs.
If he continues to play good football, a team may offer him a contract for the 2019 season and beyond. For a player that has been constantly overlooked and shut down, Josh Johnson always kept his head down and did not let anyone tell him no. Even though he may never appear in a game with the San Diego Fleet, Johnson will always have the support of Fleet fans as he continues his stint in the NFL.
Diego works at Prep Baseball Report as an Area Scout in Illinois and Missouri. He graduated this spring with a Bachelor Degree in Communications and played four years of college baseball, logging nearly 50 innings of work in a relief role. Diego hopes to work in an MLB front office one day and has been a Padres fan since he was six years old.