A Reminder Of Why The Cowboys Are So Patient With Safety Matt Johnson

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It's been two years and no return on investment, but the Cowboys continue to hold on to Matt Johnson.

He's the unicorn. The most mysterious of all Dallas Cowboys. We may have to send out a team of Bigfoot hunters to find him. He's Matt Johnson, the Cowboys secret weapon at safety who is so secret that he never plays.

Todd Archer recently reminded us that yes, Johnson is still on the roster, and yes, he did participate in the recent OTA session.

In his third season with the Cowboys, he has yet to play a game. Hamstring, back and foot injuries have kept him off the field in his first two seasons. He is like some sort of myth.

The questions asked to him on Tuesday after the first organized team activities (OTAs) were the same asked to him last spring.

"I can just repeat my answers from last year," Johnson joked. "I feel like it's been a long time since I've been in a groove playing football really since my senior year in college. It's just good to get back out there with the guys and compete and kind of gear up for a new season."

Johnson ran with the 2's in the recent OTA practices, teaming up with Jeff Heath behind Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox. But the Cowboys had grand plans for Johnson when they drafted him way back in 2012. In college, he was a playmaker with 14 interceptions in his career.

I decided to take a quick trip in BTB's way-back machine to look at why the Cowboys drafted him in the first place. Yes, he made plays at Eastern Washington, he had the third-best production ratio at safety in his draft class (led by Mark Barron). But his athleticism and measurables were also a big part of it. The scouts raved about his pro day.

Tony Pauline:

Safety Matt Johnson, who missed most of the season's second half with a torn biceps tendon, put on a show for scouts. The hard hitting run defender measured just over 6-feet and 211 pounds. His fastest 40 time clocked 4.54 seconds and Johnson's other marks included a vertical jump of 38.5 inches and 18 reps on the bench.

And O.C.C. put together an excellent break down of his athleticism/measurables just after the Cowboys drafted him.

Prototypical Athleticism

Last year Gil Brandt of NFL.com laid out the target measurables for safeties in each Combine drill. This is what NFL teams are looking for at the position:

Drill Significance Safeties Johnson
40-yard dash Speed over distance 4.60 4.54
225-pound bench press reps Upper body strength 18 18
Vertical jump Explosiveness, leg strength 36 38.5
Broad jump (in inches)
Explosiveness, leg strength 120 121
20-yard shuttle Flexibility, burst, balance 4.05 4.07
3-cone drill Agility, change of direction 7.10 6.84

So now we know that Johnson has the prototypical athleticism that all NFL teams are looking for in their safeties. But this still leaves us without a clear understanding of which drills are the important ones. As our good fortune would have it, the guys at Ourlads.com did some research a while back on the physical attributes that result in NFL success. Here's what they found for safeties. Three quarters of safety prospects who exceeded peer average in the 40-yard dash started in the NFL. The next most important drills for safeties are the short shuttle and three cone drill. Here's how Johnson compares:

Drill 40-YARD DASH SHORT SHUTTLE THREE CONE
EPA Avg. Success Avg. Success Avg. Success
4.58 74% 4.25 46% 7.04 46%
Johnson 4.54 4.07 6.84

The success percentage in the table indicates the percentage of prospects who became NFL starters out of all prospects who met or exceeded the peer average of the specific drill. In other words, 74% of safeties who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds or less became starters in the NFL.

Matt Johnson exceeds peer average in all three critical drills. From a purely athletic point of view, there is no reason to doubt that Matt Johnson could eventually become a starter in the NFL.

It's all impressive stuff, kind of a reminder why the Cowboys are being so patient with the fourth-round draft pick. But will he ever be able to get on the field? That's the question we're asking. Vote in the poll and hit up the comments.

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