The 2012 NFL Draft wasn't loaded with talent at the safety position. Honestly, the past few drafts have lacked really good safety options, and the quality of safeties coming into the NFL continues to see a drop off in talent. Due to the lack of good safeties in the draft available after the first round, the Cowboys have been limited in what they could do in the draft when it came to addressing that position.
When Dallas went on the clock with the 135th overall pick, the last of the fourth round, not many were expecting to see them draft Matt Johnson from Eastern Washington. George Iloka from Boise State was still on the board, but he may have been more of a Gerald Sensabaugh type and it's clear to me that they wanted to go with more of a free safety.
DeQuan Menzie from Alabama was making some noise during the draft. Some thought he could be a better free safety in the NFL as opposed to cornerback. Other than those two safeties, there really weren't many available that the Cowboys would have went after.
Let's start with the position. The Cowboys needed to bring in another free safety option to beef up the competition on the roster. Almost every drafting service listed safety as a need for the Cowboys entering the draft this year, so they definitely addressed a need. I was surprised myself when I heard the name Matt Johnson called. I am not going to lie to you, I didn't see that one coming.
The first thought that popped into my head was "who" did the Cowboys just draft? After talking to someone I know who works in the NFL, I came away very pleased with this selection. My source told me that he and his organization had Johnson rated as their third-best safety in the draft. They loved his ball skills and style of play, but Johnson also had the "RKG" mentality.
Eastern Washington SS Matt Johnson Draft Profile (via ProFootballWeekly)
- 6'1, 211
- 22 years old
- Olympia, Washington
- Eastern Washington University
- 341 career tackles, 17 career interceptions, 6 forced fumbles
- Named to multiple All-America teams
- His brother Zach also played for Eastern Washington
The first thing that stands out for me is his production. 341 career tackles and 17 career interceptions is nothing to sneeze at no matter what conference you come from. He has plenty of experience and he produced at a very high level. What drove him down the draft board was the torn bicep injury he suffered during his senior season. Some teams were probably scared off by the injury and the lower level of competition Johnson faced in college.
Johnson had a very good workout at his pro day last March. He has good size for the safety position and good enough speed to make plays on the field. Listed below are the results from his pro day:
- 4.52 40 yard dash
- 38 inch vertical jump
- 4.07 20 yard shuttle
- 6.84 three-cone drill
Matt Johnson Career Highlights part 1 (via CFBFAN EWU)
Matt Johnson Career Highlights part 2 (via CFBFAN EWU)
- Good athlete
- Good speed
- Can be a sideline to sideline player due to his quickness and great anticipation
- Flies to the football
- Natural ballhawk
- Loves to be physical
- Solid tackler
- Will force fumbles
- Smart football player who takes the right angles, makes the right decisions in coverage
- The "RKG"
- Doesn't have blazing speed, but possesses good speed
- Needs to work on his technique and footwork to adjust to the NFL level of play
- Needs to improve suddenly changing directions, but is a fluid athlete
- The lack of talent he faced in college could hurt his transformation to the NFL
- Will need to learn more complex defensive schemes and coverages
On tape this kid is all over the place making plays. The videos above aren't your typical highlight reels, as it looks more like coaches film mixed in with regular footage that shows Johnson's positive plays of the season. It's very clear to me that he is a natural ballhawk who can make plays on the football. The Cowboys have lacked that for a very long time, and if Johnson can make the transition to the NFL, he could become the playmaking safety this team desperately needs.
The pre-season may not be an exciting time of the year for many fans, but I get excited because we finally get to see what guys like Matt Johnson can do. He looks like a high energy playmaker, but can he do it on the NFL level? The Cowboys received the draft pick used on Johnson from the NFL as a compensation draft pick for the loss of Stephen Bowen. If Matt Johnson can develop into something, then the Cowboys will have made out.
Expectations won't be high for him in his rookie season. Special teams will be the area he will have to make an impact on in order to make the 53-man roster. Johnson has the physical ability to develop into a starting caliber safety in a few years, but he will have to work hard in order to do that.