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Arizona DL PJ Johnson will play ‘all over the place’ for Detroit Lions

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The Lions value their seventh-round pick’s versatility

pj-johnson-arizona-wildcats-defensive-tackle-nfl-draft Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn lugs a big book around with him on summer vacation, chock full of scouting reports of junior college football players.

Arizona Wildcats defensive lineman PJ Johnson wasn’t in it. He was in the process of transferring to Arizona from City College of San Francisco, far from the NFL’s radar.

But Johnson made such a strong impression in his one and only season of major-conference football that he played his way into the spotlight and Quinn selected him in the seventh round of the NFL Draft on Saturday.

“PJ wasn’t part of that process. He was a guy that burst onto the scene in September,” Quinn told reporters. “I remember the first grade rolling in on him in late September was pretty good. And then another one in early November. We watched him get a workout out there (in Tucson), actually brought in him here for a (top) 30 visit because he was a non-combine guy. A lot of those non-combine guys you want to bring in for a physical, make sure medically they’re all good. So that was kind of how it was.”

Johnson played in 10 games (nine starts) at Arizona and tallied 31 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, a forced fumble and three fumble recoveries.

His best work came as a pass rusher where Pro Football Focus graded him as the fourth-best interior lineman in the Pac-12.

Johnson, 6-foot-4, 334 pounds, flashed an impressive mix of size and athleticism, allowing him to play both inside and outside on the defensive line. The former is Johnson’s natural position, but injuries forced Johnson to slide over and he fared well.

The Lions already have a solid interior line with A’Shawn Robinson, Damon Harrison Sr. and rookie standout Da’Shawn Hand, so that kind versatility could be Johnson’s ticket to playing time at the next level.

Quinn seems to see it that way too.

“Big guy, athletic, multiple position guy up front,” Quinn said. “Nose guard, three technique, five technique, you’ll see him all over the place.”