Ex-Tennessee star gets NFL chance with Broncos after rape acquittal

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Former University of Tennessee star linebacker A.J. Johnson is getting a shot in the NFL with the Broncos less than a month after he was acquitted along with a college teammate of aggravated rape charges.

Johnson and Michael Williams were acquitted of all counts July 27. They were indicted in February 2015 after a woman said both men raped her during a party at Johnson’s apartment in the early morning hours of Nov. 16, 2014.

Johnson and Williams were suspended from the team less than 48 hours after the party and never played for Tennessee again.

While Williams was a part-time starter in the secondary, Johnson was a four-year starter and a pro prospect whose invitation to the 2015 NFL combine was rescinded after charges were filed.

“A.J. hasn’t had the opportunity to play football for the last three years while resolving a serious legal matter,” general manager John Elway said in a statement Monday.

“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.”

To make room for Johnson, the Broncos released linebacker Stansly Maponga.

They also signed safety Shamarko Thomas after losing safety Jamal Carter (torn hamstring) for the season Saturday night in their preseason opener.

Now a 26-year-old rookie, Johnson was a three-time All-SEC selection at Tennessee from 2011-14. He was a four-year starter in Knoxville whose 425 tackles ran second among any Volunteer since the school started keeping track of the statistic in 1970.

In 46 career games at Tennessee, he had 30½ tackles for loss, three sacks, an interception, 11 pass breakups, three forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. He posted double digits in tackles 23 times.

Prosecutors painted Johnson and Williams as entitled athletes who weren’t used to being told no. Defense attorneys argued that the woman had sex with both men at the same time and then lied, claiming she had been raped.

After a jury of seven women and five men found Johnson and Williams not guilty, Johnson said, “I just knew God was going to take care of it.”

The Broncos listed the 6-foot-2 Johnson at 243 pounds, but he said at his trial last month that he weighs 255 as he sought to revive his dream of playing in the NFL.

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