Bulls in NFL see success, injuries, uncertain futures

Former USF running back D’Ernest Johnson (30) played one of his best games of the 2021 season against the Denver Broncos. BROWNSWIRE PHOTO

The 2021 NFL season has come to an end, and several former USF players had notable seasons. From established stars to unheralded role players, Bulls were making an impact across the league.

Here’s how a few of the Bulls fared in their respective seasons.

D’Ernest Johnson rises to the occasion

Playing time has been at a premium for Johnson since joining the Cleveland Browns as a running back due to the presence of talented players like Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.

Injuries to both in Week 7 led to Johnson’s first start against the Broncos. He took full advantage of the opportunity, finishing with 22 carries for 146 yards and a touchdown, proving himself to be a capable backup.

Although he played well, touches continued to be sparse. Johnson had to wait until the final game of the season for another significant chance to play. Against the Bengals, he carried the ball 25 times for 123 yards and another touchdown. 

Set to be an unrestricted free agent, Johnson has demonstrated he can be a valuable backfield option for any NFL team.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s challenging season

After having a clean bill of health since his rookie season in 2018, the injury bug caught up to wide receiver Valdes-Scantling this year. He played 11 games for the Green Bay Packers, missing time due to hamstring issues and COVID-19 protocols.

In the time he did spend on the gridiron, he finished with 26 receptions, 430 yards and three touchdowns.

In the Packers’ final game of the season, he was pulled off the field midgame due to an undisclosed back injury. It is unclear whether this will keep him out of Green Bay’s Divisional Round game in two weeks.

An uncertain future for Marlon Mack 

The story of 2021 for running back Mack began as one of redemption. By November, he found himself in limbo. 

Despite years of being a key piece in the Indianapolis Colts’ ground game, a 2020 season cut short by an Achilles’ tear and the emergence of Jonathan Taylor meant Mack saw his playtime cut drastically. 

By Halloween, Mack’s offensive snaps had dwindled to single digits. In early November, he was listed as inactive despite being healthy and both parties agreed to seek trade offers, according to multiple reports.

The trade deadline came and went, and the running back remained in Indy. He enters free agency this offseason and will look to prove he can still contribute to an NFL team if given the chance.

Jason Pierre-Paul in Champa Bay 

Defensive end and linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul recorded 2.5 sacks and 31 tackles in 12 games for the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But the 2021 season was a painful one for Pierre-Paul, suffering through shoulder complications. He has been managing a torn rotator cuff throughout the season, according to BucsWire

Pierre-Paul has been unable to play since the Bucs’ loss against the New Orleans Saints on Dec. 19 and is questionable for the Wild Card Round game Sunday.

Mitchell Wilcox finds his legs

In his first full season with the Cincinnati Bengals, tight end Mitchell Wilcox carved out a spot on the roster after being waived in 2020. 

Over the course of 15 games this season, he saw playing time on both offense and special teams. He finished the year with three receptions on five targets.

With three tackles to his name, Wilcox is currently the Bengals’ highest-graded player on special teams, according to BengalsWire.