Matt Johnson, SS
School: Eastern Washington | Conference: FCS
College Experience: Senior | Hometown: Olympia, WA
The Cowboys picked their fourth defensive player of the NFL draft by selecting Eastern Washington safety Matt Johnson. Matt is the twin of his EWU teammate Zach Johnson. The fourth year starter is an omnipresent force who sometimes appears to be in on every tackle and every ball that goes up in the air. Johnson is equal parts physical and instinctive. His ability to track and break on the ball often puts him in position to deflect passes or come up with an interception.
The Cowboys went deep into the weeds to find Johnson, an FCS player who missed most of his senior season after tearing a biceps tendon in his left shoulder. Dallas has had a fairly mixed bag with small-school players recently, so Johnson will be viewed skeptically until he can prove himself on the pro level. Johnson, who red-shirted in 2007, was a four-year starter at Eastern Washington, and he was one of the defensive leaders on a team that won the 2010 FCS championship.
Strengths: He’s a hard hitter who is not afraid of contact and somebody who has played through injuries. He picked up 289 tackles and 17 interceptions in his career. Johnson makes plays on the ball as a deep center fielder and near the line of scrimmage. He likes playing special teams, and performed on the punt team for four seasons but was taken off other special teams units because he was on defense. Johnson improved his 40 times, recording a 4.6 40 his junior season and then a 4.5 40 this year.
Tough run-defending safety who is best in a straight line. Effectively reads the action, directs his teammates in the secondary and forces his way up the field to make plays against the run. Squares into ball carriers, goes for the knockout blow and is aggressive in all aspects of the game. Remains disciplined with coverage assignments in the middle of the field.
Weaknesses: Health. He had a concussion and surgery on his bicep during his career. NFL teams asked him about his health, but he passed all physical tests. Chicago Bears had him projected as a undrafted free agent pickup, Cowboys drafted him. Johnson is pretty quick but can he cover tight ends or help out deep in the backend when wide receivers get free?
Good-sized with a well-proportioned, toned build, Johnson is a tough, competitive, coachable strong safety with good linear athletic ability. Plays with and trusts his eyes. Drops downhill and supports the run aggressively – gets proper fits, runs the alley and takes effective angles. Effective in halves or thirds, can run with tight ends and has good hands to intercept (17 career interceptions). Smart, experienced four-year starter who made secondary calls. Struggles to man up receivers and shows average range and change of direction. Is not a violent striker and misses some tackles when he isn’t under control. Character player with a professional approach who has an intangible makeup and athletic skill set to make a roster and contribute on special teams.
PHOTO: Dallas Cowboys DeMarco Murray runs for a touchdown against the St. Louis Rams during the first half at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2011. JERRY LARA
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The Chargers couldn’t fit Robinson on their roster, but San Diego coach Norv Turner is tight with Dallas coach Jason Garrett and may have put a good word in. They also have very similar offensive systems. In Dallas, Robinson will battle Dwayne Harris, Kevin Ogletree, and Jesse Holley for reserve wideout snaps.