The Cowboys recently announced that Barry Church will be playing free safety in 2013. It came as a mild surprise, at least to me, because it was assumed that Church would play strong safety with either Matt Johnson, Will Allen, or J.J. Wilcox spending the majority of the time deep. That will drastically change my projection for Church, who simply won’t be able to record the number of tackles I was expecting if he’s playing in the deep half and deep middle on the majority of his snaps.
Church’s move to free safety also tips the Cowboys’ hand a little regarding the other starting safety choice. While the job will be determined on the field during the preseason, you’d think Johnson, standing at 6-1, 215 pounds, has the best chance to win it. It’s unlikely that the ‘Boys will want to throw Wilcox into the mix so quickly, and Allen is a smaller safety that many assumed would compete for time at free safety.
The Cowboys are lucky to have a young player like Johnson who has the versatility to play either safety position. It’s a mild concern that Johnson has yet to play a snap in the NFL, but that’s the case with every rookie every season; Johnson is basically a rookie with a year of experience in the system. So the question is whether or not we should be excited about Johnson’s skill set in the same way we’d be excited to see a highly drafted rookie. I think we should.
In a previous scouting report on Johnson, I made this 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 pure measurables, Johnson is a slightly superior option to Player X. That player is 2013 first-round pick Kenny Vaccaro. I’m sure Saints fans aren’t worried that Vaccaro can’t play in the NFL, primarily because the team drafted him so high. We shouldn’t downgrade Johnson because he flew under the radar in college, though; he’s just as prepared to play in the NFL as Vaccaro, perhaps even more so. Just because he hasn’t played a snap doesn’t mean his future snaps won’t be good ones.
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.