The emergence of inside linebacker Alexander “A.J.” Johnson the past couple of games for the Denver Broncos has been a pleasant surprise, so it is no coincidence he gets the spotlight on this week’s player profile.

Before the Broncos’ Week 5 matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers, Johnson was inserted into the starting lineup in place of an injured Josey Jewell. Immediately, Johnson made the most of his opportunity by recording eight tackles, two passes defended and an interception in his first start in the NFL. Furthermore, he earned a 91.9 grade from Pro Football Focus, the highest of any Broncos’ defender for that week.

However, some wondered if Johnson’s play against the Chargers may have been a fluke and considered it a potential “one-hit wonder” performance. But Johnson silenced those critics with his Week 6 performance against the Tennessee Titans. Johnson notched a team-high nine tackles, one-and-a-half sacks and two quarterback hits. He played 61-of-70 (87%) of the defensive snaps.

“Some guys will say, ‘Hey, don’t go out there and be some one-hit wonder,'” said Johnson. “I was like, no, the only one-hit wonder I’m going to be is when I hit somebody. They’re going to be wondering where they are.”

After his play in Weeks 5 and 6, Pro Football Focus grades Johnson at 91.4 overall. That is the highest of any player on the team for those two games. But, to appreciate how far he’s come, let’s go back to the linebacker’s beginnings.

Johnson was born on December 24, 1991 in Gainesville, Georgia and later attended Gainesville High School. After a standout high school career, he elected to play college football at the University of Tennessee.

As a Volunteer, Johnson was named a Freshman All-American by the Football Writers Association of America. During his sophomore season in 2012, he led the entire SEC with 138 tackles. In 2013, Johnson was named First Team All-SEC, truly an honor playing in a conference with a whole slew of exceptional defensive talent. He finished his collegiate career with 424 tackles, three sacks, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and one interception.

In spite of his terrific play on the field in college, Johnson faced adversity off of it when he was accused of rape in November of 2014. Following a long court process, Johnson was acquitted of rape charges on July 27, 2018.

In August of 2018, Johnson signed with the Broncos as a college free agent. Johnson’s determination was rewarded when he made the Broncos’ 53-man roster. But, Johnson appeared in only one game during the first 11 weeks of the season before the Broncos decided to waive him in late November.

Despite this setback, Johnson went through waivers unclaimed before being re-signed to the Broncos’ practice squad. In January 2019, he signed a reserve/future contract with Denver.

Though Johnson went through a long period of not playing football right in the prime of his playing career, he looks fresh and has already been tabbed by some as the Broncos’ best inside linebacker. Johnson has shown some flashes of Al Wilson, a five-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time All-Pro at middle linebacker with the Broncos.

When asked how his progression has gone since missing three years of football and getting acclimated to pro football last season with the Broncos’, Johnson said, “Pretty much staying patient, so the opportunity presented itself and I am happy now; it is what I dreamed of – going out there and playing and making plays so I am just going to try to continue to do that.”

His infectious personality has rubbed off on teammates and Johnson has equated himself to a velociraptor dinosaur.

When asked about his nickname “Dino,” Johnson had this to say, “It is just like a personality, I guess. I got it from one of my guys back from college and it has just transformed. I do it with kids when I am playing with kids and then I can relate it to on the football field, as I am going to go eat and going to go hunt. I came up with a little thing. Guys are calling themselves ‘G.O.A.T.’ [Greatest Of All Time] and stuff like that. I am the dinosaur and dinosaurs eat the goat, so I am out there trying to ball out and have fun with it. It seems like it is working.”

Defensive teammate Von Miller noted Johnson has been doing his dinosaur noise in the locker room for awhile now, saying “I love when he goes full velociraptor.” In addition to Miller’s affection for Johnson’s dinosaur ways, he had high praise for Johnson’s fortitude, saying, “It is just inspiring and just dope to see how far he’s come to have all the success on the football field. It is just dope, he’s just a dope guy. I am happy that he is starting to see success on the football field.”

Miller, Johnson and the rest of the Denver defense which has balled out lately take on the Kansas City Chiefs (4-2) at Empower Field at Mile High Stadium tonight with kickoff scheduled for 6:20 p.m. MT. Be sure to keep an eye on No. 45 as he’s been making a ton of plays lately.