The Cowboys have an enormous amount of confidence in safety Matt Johnson—so much so that fans have commented on numerous occasions that the team really knows nothing about him. Johnson—a rookie in 2012—has never played a snap in the NFL, yet he’s projected to be the Cowboys’ opening day starter at free safety.
Earlier this week, I broke down safety Barry Church as if he were a rookie and provided him with a fifth-round grade. Today, I’ll do the same for Johnson. Since Johnson has no NFL experience, however, the criteria on which I’m basing my grade are probably similar to those the Cowboys are using in assuming Johnson can play; he’s an athletic, explosive player with good size.
At 6-1, 215 pounds, Johnson is bulkier than the typical free safety. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, assuming Johnson can cover the deep middle. Based on his pre-draft measurables, there’s good reason to believe he can. Johnson ran as fast as a 4.52 40-yard dash at his Pro Day. Pro Day measurables aren’t standardized in the same way that they are for the NFL Scouting Combine, but it’s safe to say that Johnson is a sub-4.60 player. In addition, Johnson also recorded a 10-1 broad jump and 4.07 short shuttle. The latter number in particular is outstanding and shows that Johnson has short-area quickness.
To give you a sense of how Johnson stacks up physically with other young safeties, let’s make a comparison:
Johnson: 6-1, 215 pounds, 4.52 40-yard dash, 10-1 broad jump, 4.07 short shuttle, 6.84 three-cone drill, 38-inch vertical, 18 reps
Player X: 6-0, 214 pounds, 4.63 40-yard dash, 10-1 broad jump, 4.06 short shuttle, 6.78 three-cone drill, 38-inch vertical, 15 reps
In terms of measurables, Player X is basically a clone of Johnson, with perhaps worse long speed. So where does that sort of player get drafted? The first round, apparently, because Player X is Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro—the No. 15 overall selection this year.
That’s not to say that Johnson is superior to Vaccaro, but from a purely physical standpoint, they’re basically the same player. Vaccaro might have better ball skills or he might be more instinctual, but we really won’t know that until Johnson gets some reps. Until then, there’s good reason to believe the Cowboys are at least justified in giving Johnson a fair shot to win the starting job.
Re-Grade: Second Round
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.