Boye Mafe and Jermaine Johnson II — a pair of edge rushers from the Twin Cities — are trying to follow solid weeks at the Reese's Senior Bowl last month with an impressive showing in Indianapolis.
Mafe attended Hopkins High School before heading to the University of Minnesota and blossoming to garner selection to the All-Big Ten Second Team by media and All-Big Ten Third Team by coaches in 2021.
Johnson's trek to a dynamic season at Florida State — he became the first player in ACC history to win Defensive or Offensive Player of the Year in his first season in the conference — began at Eden Prairie High School. It included stops at Independence Community College (Kansas), which included an appearance on Last Chance U, before he transferred to Georgia and played there from 2019-20.
Both participated in media sessions Friday at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine and have conducted formal interviews with multiple teams. They will join defensive linemen and linebackers in working out Saturday.
They want to prove their recent production (particularly the past two seasons for Mafe and 2021 for Johnson) will continue in the NFL.
Mafe was named the National Team Player of the Game at the Senior Bowl and also showed what he could do in three days of practices.
"It was definitely great for me. The Senior Bowl was one of those things that I felt as if I wanted to show what I can do as a player," Mafe said Friday. "I felt the Senior Bowl was something that I needed to do for my, the aspect of my playing style, to go out there, let it loose and also play in a 3-point [stance], which was something coaches had never seen me do."
Mafe led the Gophers in tackles for loss (10) and sacks (7.0) last season, finishing with career totals of 19.5 and 15. While he's been focused on making a good impression to prospective employers, Mafe said he's most enjoyed connecting with other prospects.
"My favorite experience so far is just meeting the guys, especially a lot of guys I played with at the Senior Bowl. We were [there], and I was competing against them," Mafe said. "Now we're here enjoying each other, sitting together at lunch and dinner and reminiscing about things. Just really enjoying that experience and making friends here. I feel like it's been a great time. Especially all the people you see on TV talking about, 'Oh yeah, we watched that game you played.' "
He's also enjoyed the experience with Gophers teammates Esezi Otomewo, whom he's rooming with in Indy, and offensive linemen Blaise Andries and Daniel Faalele. Andries and Faalele hit the media circuit Thursday and will participate on the field Friday.
"It means everything to us, especially with me and Blaise being hometown guys," Mafe said. "That's our home state, so being able to represent them at the combine, walking around, I saw Antoine Winfield [Jr.] on a poster, so being able to see that and Minnesota on the map means the world to me and to us as a team."
NFL.com's Lance Zierlein compared Mafe to Packers edge rusher Rashan Gary in this NFL.com bio, in which Mafe has been given a projection grade of "6.35 — will eventually be a 'plus starter' " and a Next Gen Stats projection grade of 74 that falls at the top end of the "average" projection and one point shy of "good."
The Next Gen Stats grade "is calculated by complex algorithms based on a combination of college production and athleticism."
Zierlein and Chase Goodbread listed Johnson as one of their five stars from the first day of practices in Mobile, and NFL.com's Bucky Brooks listed Johnson as his No. 5 overall defensive end in pre-combine position rankings.
Get a behind-the-scenes look of GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Head Coach Kevin O'Connell at the 2022 NFL Combine in Indianapolis.
Johnson wasn't shy when asked what he wanted to show scouts at the combine.
"That I'm as good as I think I am. I think the only question mark on me is that I've had, this past year, one solid year of really good production. So that's a question mark, but I think if I had the same snaps before, I would have done the same things. If I did it two years consecutively, I don't think it would be a question."
Johnson earned All-American status from multiple outlets and was named ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week four times. He started 12 games, recording 70 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, two forced fumbles, 12 quarterback hurries, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery. The 18 tackles for loss and 12 sacks led the ACC in 2021.
He said the seeds for that breakout were first planted in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and caused he (and other college students) to return home.
"I got to go home, recalibrate, and that was the biggest jump I've had as a player, as a man, as a person," Johnson said. "I got to just sit at home, breathe, find out who I was as a person."
Zierlein compared Johnson to Raiders edge rusher Maxx Crosby in this NFL.com bio, in which Johnson has been given a projection grade of "6.49 — will become good starter within two years" and a Next Gen Stats projection grade of 80.
Johnson said he believes the multiple stops on his football journey have prepared him to make an impact in the NFL.
"I'm a pass rusher. Different schemes call for different things. A 3-4, 4-3, I've played both," Johnson said. "As long as I'm outside that tackle, I think I can be a headache for offenses."