Mustafa Johnson didn’t hear his name called during the 2021 NFL Draft last week, but there’s still a chance that the Turlock High School alum and former varsity football standout could be on a team's roster next season.
Johnson, a 2017 Bulldog graduate, announced in January that he would enter the draft, forgoing his final year of collegiate eligibility as one of the University of Colorado’s top defensive lineman to pursue a “childhood dream” of competing in the NFL. Though Johnson is a senior, he could have returned to play defensive end for the Buffs next season thanks to an extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the pandemic.
The draft began Thursday evening and ran through Saturday afternoon, but Johnson went undrafted during the event’s seven rounds. Johnson has yet to sign with a team as an undrafted free agent (UDFA) as of Tuesday, but is expected to work out for the New York Jets in the coming days as first reported by Jeff Hauser of The Ralphie Report.
While Johnson and his agent, Walter Musgrove, were unable to be reached for comment, Musgrove posted a graphic on Instagram congratulating Johnson on the upcoming workout.
“Thankful for the opportunity the @nyjets have presented,” the post reads. “Remember the name Mustafa Johnson. He is coming with a big chip on his shoulder and ready to work!!!”
It was reported by The Ralphie Report that medical issues caused Johnson to go undrafted (his junior season was affected by an ankle injury), though many analysts commented on Johnson's size as small for the position during pre-draft evaluations.
Johnson is no stranger to adversity, however. He was underrecruited during his time as a Bulldog and went on to dominate at Modesto Junior College, where he earned a scholarship to play for the Colorado Buffaloes after just one season.
While at THS, Johnson was part of the undefeated 2016 California Central Conference team and lost just two games during his three years on the varsity squad. During that time, he was a two-time CCC Defensive Player of the Year. As a senior in 2016, Johnson finished the season with a team-high 68 tackles, seven sacks and 30 tackles for loss.
He followed his senior campaign with one season at MJC, where he was tied for first on the team with 6.5 sacks. Johnson was so impressive during his season at MJC that he was signed to the Division-I program at CU and went on to lead the 2018 Buffs in sacks (8.5). Johnson also added 73 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and 16 quarterback pressures — a team best — during his first year at the D-I level and earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors.
This past season, Johnson had 21 tackles, two sacks and six tackles for loss during the regular season for the Buffs and added three tackles and a sack during the Alamo Bowl. Coaches and media named Johnson second-team All-Pac-12, and he leaves CU tied for 14th in program history in career sacks (15) according to BuffStampede.com.
As a UDFA working out with the Jets, Johnson will have the opportunity to potentially sign with the team if he impresses. Teams can sign as many UDFAs as they’d like, as long as they stick to the 90-man offseason roster size. Once they’re signed, UDFAs go through the offseason program, training camp and roster cuts just like any other player.
Turlock varsity football coach James Peterson credited Johnson with kickstarting the “bad boy defense” the Bulldogs are now known for and expects his former player to make the most of the opportunity he has with the Jets. Peterson said he knew Johnson was an elite athlete from the start thanks to his quick feet and physical dominance, and hopes Jets head coach and former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh recognizes his talent as well.
“Mustafa’s the type of guy that when an opportunity shows itself, he takes full advantage of it. He’s going to be playing for a guy who likes players that have hustle, and that’s what he has,” Peterson said. “I love that the head coach there knows defense, and anyone who sees Mustafa’s highlights knows what kind of defensive player he is and I think that’s why they’d want to give him a shot.”