In the wake of the 2012 NFL Draft, let’s discuss the Rays’ football connection: the players they have selected in the MLB Draft who happened to not only play baseball but also football, specifically in this case, quarterbacks. Today we’ll start with Doug Johnson.
With the first pick in the history of their franchise, the Rays selected a linebacker. With the second pick, the went to the offensive side of the ball and 6’2″, 225 quarterback Doug Johnson out of F.W. Buchholz High School in Gainesville, Florida. Living in Gainesville, Johnson was committed to the University of Florida. The Rays managed to sign Johnson, but only to a two-sport contract that allowed him to attend and play football at Florida. In the summer of 1996, Johnson began his pro baseball career, appearing in 28 games for the Rookie-level GCL Devil Rays, posting .231/.286/.306 line with 3 doubles, 1 triple, 1 homer, and 9 RBI. Johnson showed his inexperience playing baseball, striking out 41 times compared to just 7 walks. After playing shortstop and first base in high school, the Rays moved Johnson to third base to begin his career and he made 12 errors in 27 games at the hot corner, showing promise but also inconsistency. That winter, Johnson played sparingly for the Gators, going 12 for 27 passing for 171 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception.
Johnson returned the following summer to the Rays organization, playing 34 games at Advanced Rookie-level Princeton, and he showed more flashes of greatness. He posted just a .201/.263/.367 line, but he laced 7 doubles, 2 triples, 4 homers, 19 RBI, and 2 stolen bases. He did strike out 56 times compared to just 8 walks and he made 16 errors in 33 games at third base. Johnson’s season was cut short by a rotator cuff injury in his shoulder. Johnson was making progress. Maybe if he committed to baseball full-time he had a chance to utilize his power and arm tools to their fullest extents and improve his ability to make contact and draw walks. But that winter, Johnson broke out as the Gators’ starting QB, going 148 for 269 passing (55.%) for 2023 yards, 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, also rushing for another score. With his football career looking bright, Johnson decided to forego his professional baseball career to avoid additional injury risk.
Johnson would later sign with the Atlantic Falcons as an undrafted free agent and appeared in 25 NFL games from 2000-2004 with the Falcons and Tennessee Titans, making 11 starts, and going 216 for 384 (56.8%) for 2600 yards, 13 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. For only one season, 2003, was Johnson a full-time starter, and that year he went 136 for 243 passing (56.0%) for 1655 yards, 8 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, compiling a 1-7 record as a starter. That year he led the NFL in a category for the only time in his career, tossing an NFL-long 86 yard touchdown pass. No one will ever know how Johnson would have turned out as a baseball player. He was extremely raw during the two years he played and had already suffered a rotator cuff injury. But he showed flashes of greatness, something that came few and far between for Johnson in the NFL. Johnson had tons of upside as a baseball player, but the Devil Rays could not get him to commit exclusively to baseball and unfortunately for him, his NFL career never took off as he hoped.