There isn’t much we know about Matt Johnson. He wasn’t considered a highly touted safety prospect. He didn’t go to the combine and turn in a “work out warrior” type of result. The truth is that he is a relative unknown. In fact, when the Cowboys selected him in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft most draft experts were absolutely shocked. I’ll admit I was too.
Now the dust has settled and the fact is that Matt Johnson IS a Cowboy. I immediately went to studying tape of Johnson and have been doing so for about 3 months. My reasoning is that I want to know everything I can about the guy before I make an unfair assessment of his abilities.
The Cowboys have been in desperate need for a safety since the retirement of Darren Woodson. It seems that every year the Cowboys are linked to top prospect safeties like Earl Thomas and Mark Barron or top tier free agent safeties. Somehow, every year, the Cowboys seem to take the back seat on the safety market and try a less expensive filler. Well unfortunately that hasn’t worked and our secondary has been torched because of it.
Enter another late round pick safety. With Brodney Pool and Barry Church leading the “Battles to Watch in Camp” Johnson seems to be more of a project for the Boys; A player that most expect to be relegated strictly to special teams for the first year. However, I see a player who can contribute immediately. See Barry Church and Pool aren’t what you call elite players. For that sake neither is Johnson… yet. There are a few things that I’ve noticed about Johnson that really have me thinking good things for this season and the foreseeable future…
Build: Johnson is a notable 6’0 211 lb safety. His size isn’t fantastic but it’s ideal and wont work against him at the next level. The thing that I like most about Johnson is that his body isn’t’ overly massive but is proportionate to his size. He is lean and muscular and clearly in good shape. His wingspan is about 71 inches and his hands are also fairly big at 9 inches.
Play: This is where Johnson really jumps out at you. He is instinctive; he plays the ball and has outstanding awareness. What’s most impressive is that he trusts his instincts; it’s rare that you ever see Johnson hesitate on a decision. He is willing to believe in his ability and more often than not that works out for him. He isn’t a blazer but plays fast. He’s able to get all over the field and seems to be in almost every play. In that respect I see a lot of Sean Lee in him. He’s a ball hawk who will create interceptions and will be reliable in centerfield. Don’t be deceived by his ability to play the ball though, he is a thumper. The guy has outstanding open field tackling ability and knows how to make plays in the backfield.
Guts/Heart: Here’s the clincher for me. I think that football players are made into two molds. You have the “It’s about me” players and the “What can I do to help the team” players. Johnson is the latter. He is very coachable, competitive, and has a unique toughness to him. Johnson wont be a player that you have to worry about on and off the field. He’s accountable, he knows right from wrong, and will leave every ounce of himself on the field for the team. His heart is unquestioned. He has the psychological make up of a Sean Lee, DeMarcus Ware type. Johnson is a true professional.
Here’s the deal, Johnson isn’t Keith Davis. He isn’t here to be a special teams player. Camp notes have Johnson already turning heads and his game is still raw for the pros. I get it, some of you want Barry Church or Brodney Pool to be the players of the future. I don’t blame you, I want someone to hold it down. I can say though that out of the three, the overall skill set advantage goes to the young Johnson. Who might just emerge as the safety prospect we’ve been missing since the retirement of Darren Woodson.