A.J. Johnson is arguably one of the best linebackers to ever play for the Tennessee Volunteers football program. He's first in Vols history in assisted tackles (207) and second only to the late Andy Spiva in total tackles (425). Johnson was a three-time All-SEC selection, including being named to the first-team as a junior.
The four-year starter was primed to be an NFL draft pick following his senior season in 2014. Then, Johnson, along with teammate Michael Williams, were charged with aggravated rape in February 2015. Johnson's NFL combine invite was revoked, and his pursuit of an NFL career was over.
The allegations stemmed from a party at Johnson's apartment on November 16, 2014. Less than 48 hours after they became public, both Johnson and Williams were dismissed from the team.
Neither played in a University of Tennessee uniform again.
Prosecutors in the case portrayed the two as privileged athletes who forcibly raped the woman, while the defense argued the woman willingly had sex with Johnson and Williams, then later lied and claimed she was raped.
Now, over three years after the allegations first came down, Johnson has been acquitted of the rape charges and is finally getting his shot to play in the NFL.
The Denver Broncos have offered Johnson a contract, and he's practicing with the team this week, the first time he's strapped on pads over three years.
"It's a blessing to be a part of a team, I'm excited to get out here, start working out and start working my tail off," Johnson said after his first practice on Monday.
To make room for Johnson, the Broncos released linebacker Stansly Maponga.
Johnson joins the Broncos already loaded linebacking depth chart of Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Shaquil Barrett, Shane Ray, Brandon Marshall and Todd Davis.
Adding one of the best tacklers in SEC history in linebacker A.J. Johnson definitely won't hurt the cause.
Broncos general manager John Elway spoke very highly of Johnson on Monday.
"A.J. hasn't had the opportunity to play football for the last three years while resolving a serious legal matter. We've had several conversations with him since he's been cleared and have become very familiar with his background and character. Our organization is confident A.J. is ready to move forward and resume his playing career."
Johnson never doubted getting the chance to chase his NFL dream.
"No, never a time. I had faith. I trusted in God," he said. "I kept working and being determined and kept pushing. I knew it was going to come."
The Denver Broncos will take on the Chicago Bears in a preseason game at Mile High Stadium this Saturday.
Hopefully, the three-time All-Southeastern Conference linebacker is welcomed back to the game with open arms after being acquitted.
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