Like everyone else, I like to get something for nothing. I decided to use this criterion to sniff out a bargain player that could stick with the Panthers through training camp and into the season.
My first task was to identify a need that the Panthers front office would hesitate to use an early draft pick to fill. Next, I would investigate draft participants that are viable options to fill the need. Finally, I would cull any player projected to be selected in the NFL draft. In other words, I want to get a player that can make the Panthers squad at little or no cost in the draft. I want a "Free Ride". Now with my parameters set, let’s look at the results.The Need
Panthers need to upgrade their kick and punt returners to provide the offense with better field position and to make opponents spend more time preparing to defend these plays during their work-ups for the game.The Players
After identifying several likely prospects I did an evaluation of what round they may be selected in the draft. Players like Chris Owusu (Stanford WR), Joe Adams (Arkansas WR) and T.J. Graham (N.C. State WR) all seemed like good choices but they are likely to be selected in the NFL draft.
Then there were others like Texas RB Fozzy Whittaker that would be good but added nothing extra. There was little chance they would see the field except for the specific purpose to be a returner. I wanted more. I want someone who will excel at returning but will also have a chance at delivering added value.The Result
I found a player that has fallen off the beaten path and is expected to be an undrafted free agent. He returns both kicks and punts. He was his team’s leading receiver every year since arriving on campus. Every year of his college career he has led his conference in all-purpose yards and two years in a row he led the nation in all-purpose yards per game. He also holds the NCAA career records for both all-purpose yards and kickoff return yards in only three years of collegiate play. BTW, his favorite NFL player is Steve Smith of the Panthers.
DAMARIS JOHNSON, (WR/KR), Tulsa University: 5’8"/175 lbs., 4.4 40 yd dash
High School - Destrehan High School (Destrehan, LA)
In his senior year, Demaris Johnson had 81 receptions for 1228 yds and 12 TDs while leading Destrehan to a 14-0 record and a Louisiana State Championship. Johnson was selected as Louisiana Championship Game MVP and was named as the New Orleans Metro Area MVP. He is a 2 time All-State and 2 time All New Orleans Metro Area selection. Rivals had him as the #11 college prospect in LA and #28 athlete in the nation. Destrehan High coach Stephen Robicheaux said, "If he were 2 inches taller, he could have gone anywhere in the country."
College - Tulsa Golden Hurricanes (Tulsa, OK)2008
The Sporting News first team freshman All-American
Rivals.com first team freshman All-American (as athlete)
Phil Steele’s first team freshman All-American
Football Writers of America first team freshman All-American
Tulsa Single Game Kickoff Return Record – 211 yds. (6 returns)
Tulsa Single Season Kickoff Return Record - 1319 yds. (#3 nationally)
All-Purpose yards: 176.8 yards/game (#5 nationally)
Receiving: 53 recs/743 yards, 10 TDs (Tulsa’s leading receiver)
Kick Returns: 46 rtns/1131 yards (24.6 yd avg.) (#5 yards nationally)
Punt Returns: 34 rtns/1382 yards, 1 TD (40.6 yd avg.) (#3 nationally)
Rushing: 41 atts/327 yards, 1 TD (8.0 yd avg.)2009
Sports Illustrated honorable mention All American
All-Purpose yards: 224.4 yards/game (#1 nationally)
Receiving: 78 recs/1131 yards, 3 TDs (Tulsa’s leading receiver)
Kick Returns: 46 rtns/1131 yards (24.6 yd avg. (#5 yards nationally)
Punt Returns: 18 rtns/256 yards, 1 TD (14.2 yd avg.)
Rushing: 26 atts/175 yards (6.7 yd avg.)2010
Associated Press second team All-American (all-purpose)
Sports Illustrated second team All-American (all-purpose)
Hawaii Bowl MVP
All-Purpose yards: 202.0 yards/game (#1 nationally)
Receiving: 57 recs/872 yards, 4 TDs (Tulsa’s leading receiver)
Kick Returns: 34 rtns/904 yards (26.6 yd avg. (#16 yards nationally)
Punt Returns: 23 rtns/292 yards, 1 TD (12.7 yd avg.)
Rushing: 55 atts/560 yards, 7 TDs (10.2 yd avg.)Career
NCAA (FBS) all purpose yards leader - 7796 yds
NCAA (FBS) kickoff return yardage leader - 3417 yds2011
Indefinitely suspended from the Tulsa Golden HurricanesTrouble with the Law
Damaris Johnson was suspended from the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes after he was arrested and charges of felony embezzlement were filed. Johnson and his girlfriend Chamon Jones were charged because Jones, working in a Macy’s Department Store, sold over $2,600 worth of merchandise (mostly clothing) to Johnson for less than $14. Johnson pled guilty to one count of felony embezzlement and received a one year deferred sentence. He was also ordered to pay a $500 fine and required to perform 80 hours of community service.Conclusion
Demaris Johnson is an elite kick and punt returner who has put his professional football future in jeopardy because of a stupid scam for some clothing. You would hope that this blunder has taught him a lesson that he will never forget. I believe he is worthy of a second chance and would be happy to see Carolina bring him in to compete for the job of kick and punt returner.
Personally, I would use a 6th round compensatory pick (if we get one for Jeff King) or our 7th round pick to lock him up for the Panthers training camp. This would keep the Panthers from having to recruit him away from other teams looking to bring him in as an undrafted free agent (UFA).