Dallas Cowboys: Matt Johnson

Reviewing the Cowboys’ drafts: 2012

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
9:00
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Day 4 of reviewing the Dallas Cowboys' past five drafts continues today with the Class of 2012.

If you want our thoughts on the 2009-11 drafts, click here for 2009, here for 2010 and here for 2011.

First-round pick: Morris Claiborne (No. 6 overall)

Claiborne
Number of picks: 7

How they did: The Cowboys made a bold move by trading up from No. 14 to No. 6 to take Claiborne, whom they had given the highest grade for a cornerback since Deion Sanders. Two years later, the Cowboys are still waiting for Claiborne to pay off.

In fact, most of the draft class has yet to pay off. Third-round pick Tyrone Crawford (No. 81 overall) did not play last season because of a torn Achiiles. One fourth-round pick, Matt Johnson (No. 135 overall) has yet to play in a game in his two seasons because of injuries. It took the other fourth rounder, Kyle Wilber (No. 113 overall), almost two seasons to find his role. Danny Coale (knee, foot) and Caleb McSurdy (Achilles) never made the team. Sixth-round pick James Hanna was the No. 2 tight end a year ago.

Pivotal pick: It’s hard to say anybody other than Claiborne because of the price the Cowboys paid to get him, giving up their second-round pick. He came in with a surgically-repaired wrist that kept him out of offseason work as a rookie. He suffered through a hamstring injury that kept him out of six games last season. He has two interceptions in two seasons and has not displayed the confidence he played with at LSU. He must turn it around in 2014 or the Cowboys’ decision to move up to get him will haunt the team for a long time.

Hanna
Best pick: There isn’t one yet really. Crawford did not record a sack as a rookie but was solid. The Cowboys are banking on him in a big way to return from the Achilles’ injury. Based on expectations and playing time, Hanna (No. 186 overall) might be the best, but he has just 20 catches for 159 yards. He could see his playing time decrease in a big way if Gavin Escobar gets more work as the club intends.

Worst pick: The Cowboys have kept Johnson around because of his potential, but the patience has to be running thin. He did not play as a rookie because of recurring hamstring injuries, as well as an aching back. He did not play in 2013 because of ankle surgery. He is out of time to make something happen, which he knows. Considering the Cowboys’ need at safety, however, there is still a chance for Johnson to make an impact.

Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 2

April, 12, 2014
Apr 12
12:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we talk about the Cowboys' drafting injured players, Anthony Spencer's possible return, a position switch for Morris Claiborne and a Matt Johnson update.

If you want to see the Part 1 of the mailbag, click here.

Away we go:

 

Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 1

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
12:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss the best way for the Cowboys to win, the apparent plans at safety, finding a future quarterback, rebuilding and Ed Reed. Ed Reed? Yep.

Away we go:

 

Chat recap: A look at safety play

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
10:45
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- We had another lively Dallas Cowboys chat on Wednesday with a wide range of topics.

We touched on the Cowboys possibly trading down in the first round if a player like Aaron Donald was not available, the non-issue (to me anyway) of Tony Romo, Jason Witten and DeMarco Murray in Jerry Jones’ suite at the NCAA title game, if the scheme change was just an excuse for some of the poor defensive play in 2013 and, as always, drafting a quartrerback.

If you want to read the whole chat, click here.

If you have more questions, send me one on Twitter (@toddarcher) and use the #cowboysmail hashtag. The mailbag posts will go up Friday and Saturday.

But Geno in Plano asked a question I’d like to expand upon.

Church
Thomas
Geno: the Cowboys seem to undervalue the safety positions- always seem to back fill or try a stop-gap; any chance of signing a more proven commodity this year pre- or post- draft?

Todd Archer: I don't think so, Geno. There's not a real proven guy worth it right now. Look at Marinelli's safeties in Chicago. They were solid players but hardly stars. Maybe they look in the draft, but I really think they try to see what they have in J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath and Matt Johnson.

To expand, I have received a ton of questions about the safety spot this offseason because there is no doubt the play was poor in 2013 next to Barry Church. The Cowboys have not expressed interest in any veteran safeties that I have been able to determine, so it looks clear they will go with Wilcox, Heath and Johnson, as I stated in the answer. Personally, I’d take a look at Steve Gregory, but they are not about to take me up on that suggestion.

Jimmie Ward is among the pre-draft visitors, so they could look at him as well.

But the notion is that the Cowboys have to have an Earl Thomas to succeed in today’s NFL. Sure, but how many teams have an Earl Thomas? Five years ago everybody was saying the Cowboys needed to get a safety like Troy Polamalu or Ed Reed. Sure, but how many of those guys are rolling around?

They are rare players. I think the Cowboys would have selected Kenny Vaccaro last year if he wasn’t scooped up by the New Orleans Saints before Dallas picked in the first round. He was gone, so they traded down.

In his three years with the Chicago Bears, [Rod] Marinelli’s safeties were Danieal Manning and Chris Harris in 2010, with Chris Conte and Major Wright handling the duties in 2011-12. The Bears let Manning walk as a free agent when the Houston Texans offered him a big deal. Conte and Wright were third-round picks in the 2011 and 2010 drafts, respectively.

Wilcox was a third-round pick last year by the Cowboys.

Since 2000, the winning Super Bowl teams have had five All-Pro safeties: Rodney Harrison (New England), Polamalu (twice), Darren Sharper (New Orleans) and Thomas.

You can get by with functional safeties. Marinelli did it in Chicago. He will try to do it here as well.

The question should be do the Cowboys have a functional safety next to Church, not whether they can get a Thomas.

Barr, Donald, Ward among draft visitors

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
9:50
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys have signed three defensive players in free agency, but that does not mean they have fixed the woes on that side of the ball in the offseason.

Among the national visitors to the Cowboys next week for pre-draft visits are UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr, Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald, Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier, Boise State defensive end Demarcus Lawrence and Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward, according to sources.

Teams are allowed 30 national visitors leading up to the draft. They do not work out, but they meet with coaches and scouts and are put to the test mentally. The Cowboys can have an unlimited number of players work out at their Dallas day session on April 17 that includes players from local colleges or who played high school football in the area.

Donald has been linked to the Cowboys since an impressive showing at the Senior Bowl in January. He met with coaches at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis in February and will come to Valley Ranch as well. Donald might be the perfect fit as a 3-technique in Rod Marinelli’s defense.

The Cowboys signed Henry Melton as a free agent, but it does not take them out of the bidding for Donald, who had 11 sacks and 28.5 tackles last season. Melton’s contract is essentially a one-year deal. If he does not perform at a high level, the Cowboys can walk away from the final three years of the contract by not exercising the option.

Barr had 23.5 sacks in his last two years at UCLA and was a first-team All-Pac-12 pick. He played mostly linebacker, but his ability to rush the passer has some teams wondering if he can be a full-time defensive end. It is possible he could play strongside linebacker and move to defensive end in passing situations.

Shazier has phenomenal athleticism and can cover tight ends and running backs. With Bruce Carter in the final year of his deal, Shazier could provide excellent insurance or perhaps force Carter to move to the strongside linebacker spot. Shazier had 143 tackles last year for Ohio State and 44.5 tackles for loss in his career.

Lawrence led the Mountain West with 10.5 sacks in 2013 and had 20.5 tackles for loss. At 6-foot-3, 251 pounds, he is more of a defensive end than outside linebacker with long arms and deceptive strength.

Ward is one of the top safeties in the draft and could be a first-round pick. He had 95 tackles, seven interceptions and 10 pass deflections last season, but he is also coming off foot surgery. The Cowboys have not looked at the veteran safety market in free agency for somebody to play alongside Barry Church. They have said they like what they have in last year’s third-rounder, J.J. Wilcox, as well as Jeff Heath and Matt Johnson, who has yet to play in his first two years because of injuries.

In recent history, the Cowboys have shown a preference for selecting players who visited Valley Ranch before the draft. Last year, Travis Frederick, Terrance Williams, Wilcox, B.W. Webb and Joseph Randle were among the pre-draft visitors they selected. Since 2005, the only top picks not to visit the Cowboys before the draft were DeMarcus Ware (2005) and Morris Claiborne (2012).

Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 1

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
12:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas – Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
  • Realistic expectations for the season.
  • The future of Jason Garrett.
  • Offense or defense with their first pick.

Part 2 of the mailbag comes on Saturday.

Away we go:

 
IRVING, Texas -- We had more than 190 questions in Wednesday's chat, so there is a lot to pick from in this week's chat leftovers.

But first a leftover question: What's better Thanksgiving leftovers or Easter leftovers? I'm going Thanksgiving. Nothing like a cold turkey sandwich with stuffing on wheat bread.

And away we go:

Rick (San Antonio): Todd, the Boys have been one game away from advancing to the tourney. And JJ is always on cue to mention that and seems to be happy with a team that barely gets into the playoffs. Will his mentality change to form a team that can dominate?

Todd Archer: I get your sentiment, Rick, but I think the days of a team having to dominate from Game 1-16 are largely over. I realize the Seattle Seahawks were good all year, as were the Denver Broncos, but Jerry has seen teams like the Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants get hot at the end of the season and make playoff runs. It's not about being the dominant team in September. It's about being ready in December. Clearly the Cowboys haven't been ready in December (or early January) with their three losses in Week 17 the last three seasons, but as Bill Parcells use to say: get in the tournament and anything can happen. Did you have UConn in the Final Four?

Crawford
Roger Murtaugh (Dallas): Do we still like Tyrone Crawford? Is Crawford's return and the signing of Melton enough to deter the Boys from going D-Line in the first round?

Archer: The Cowboys still like Crawford … a lot. They believe he can play all four line spots, but that seems to be a stretch for me. He's not a nose tackle in base situations and I don't think he's a right defensive end either. He can play either tackle spot in pass-rushing spots. I think he's a left defensive end mostly but can move inside in obvious passing situations. While the Cowboys like him -- a lot -- I don't believe they should have huge expectations where he makes a colossal jump. He's not played a lot of football here lately and he didn't have a sack as a rookie. They should view anything they get from him as gravy. And as for the draft, I don't think Melton's arrival takes the Cowboys out of going defensive line in the first round at all.

Toby (Billings,MT) [via mobile]: Do you think we will see more production from escobar and or hanna this year?

Archer: They better get more out of Gavin Escobar. He has a chance to do some things in the passing game for sure. He can make some tough catches and I think he can really work the seams. Now, do I think he'll be an on-the-line tight end? Not really but that doesn't mean he won't get on the field. I think Scott Linehan will be more creative in getting more out of the 12 personnel package than what they Cowboys did last year. I like Hanna, but I'm not sure how the Cowboys feel about him. I think the Cowboys draft a blocking tight end in the middle to late rounds and if they go with only three tight ends, then Hanna could be the odd-man out.

Mario (South Carolina) [via mobile]: Is the Cowboys organization going to sign any more free agent vets to strengthen the offense and defense up a little more or is scoring high in the draft the big game plan this season.

Gregory
Gregory
Archer: I think they're done in free agency until after the draft unless something pop opens that is unexpected. Most of the guys available now have been available since free agency began and the Cowboys have yet to kick the tires really on anybody. I think they wait to see what they get out of the draft and fill in holes with cheap prospects in free agency. One name I'd like to see them go after is safety Steve Gregory. If we're going to play the 'better than' game, while factoring in cost, I think Gregory would be better than the other safeties not names Barry Church. Now that's just my opinion. As I've said, I think the Cowboys are ready to roll with J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath and Matt Johnson for now.

9to82 (Anywhere but here): Aren't all the additions in free agency made by Skins, Eagles, and Giants really just "march madness"? People hail DRC signing...reminder, he was terrible in Philly. Can't buy a championship folks.

Archer: I agree with the general statement, but those teams have gotten better to a degree. How much? Who knows? But the Redskins are better with DeSean Jackson. The Eagles are better with Malcolm Jenkins and Darren Sproles. The Giants are better with their flurry of signings. Are the Cowboys better with Henry Melton, Terrell McClain, Jeremy Mincey and Brandon Weeden? I'd rather have DeMarcus Ware but I'm OK with Melton over Hatcher, even with Melton coming off the knee injury. The Cowboys have stuck to their free agency plan. They could have spent, but chose not to. They're trying to build the right way. Not that the Eagles, Redskins and Giants made any foolish signings, but I do believe we've seen a lot of times win a title in March that don't make the playoffs in January.

Bruce (Gotham): What would the Cowboys do if Manziel fell to them in the draft?

Archer: If that happened, I wish I could be in the room to hear the conversations. It's actually a conversation they should have before the draft. You have to be prepared to take any player. I don't think the Cowboys were prepared to take Sharrif Floyd last year when he fell to No. 18 and they were killed for dropping down so far. I'd take Manziel, but I'm not the general manager. I can see the Cowboys taking him, but I can see them wishing the phone would ring so they could pick up some extra picks. But do you really believe he will be available at No. 16? I don't.

Cowboys ready to roll with young safeties

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31
4:25
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- When in doubt, connect a free agent to the Dallas Cowboys.

That’s what happened Monday when the Houston Texans released safety Danieal Manning. He plays a position of need for the Cowboys. He has experience. He played for Rod Marinelli in Chicago, albeit only for one year. He checks all of the boxes.

Except for the fact the Cowboys appear willing to be ready to go with their young safeties next to Barry Church, with J.J. Wilcox, last year’s third-round pick, Matt Johnson, a fourth-rounder in 2012 who has yet to play in a game, and Jeff Heath, an undrafted free agent who was forced to play a ton in 2013.

In the Cowboys' system, Church is listed as the free safety. He will line up in the box as the extra run defender. He will move around more. The other safety has to have more centerfield skills. Manning has 11 interceptions for his career.

There is also the fact he turns 32 in August.

The Cowboys went the veteran route in Will Allen last year and they didn’t get what they had wanted. (Or they cut him too soon because after his release the safety play suffered when Wilcox got hurt). As I mentioned in Monday’s blog on re-setting free agency, there is a downside to most of the players available and age is at the top of the list.

The Cowboys believe they will be better served to go with youth, and if need be they can add a safety in the summer if needed.

Loss of Hatcher could lead to pick in 2015

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
3:47
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys lost Jason Hatcher to the Washington Redskins on Friday to a four-year, $27.5 million deal, but there could be a silver lining in the future.

Depending on how free agency plays out, the Cowboys could end up receiving a compensatory pick for Hatcher in 2015.

In 2011, the Cowboys lost Stephen Bowen via free agency to the Redskins and were able to gain a fourth-round compensatory pick. They are still waiting for that pick to pay off in safety Matt Johnson, who was taken No. 135 overall.

Johnson did not play in a game in 2012 because of hamstring and back injuries and he was on injured reserve last year with an ankle injury. When the offseason program starts next month, Johnson will be ready to go, but the Cowboys cannot bank on him being a contributor, even at a position of need like safety.

For those wondering if the Cowboys can recover a pick from the loss of DeMarcus Ware, the answer is no. Ware was technically not an unrestricted free agent because he was cut.

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 2

March, 15, 2014
Mar 15
12:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss the move of Brandon Carr from safety to corner, how much of a factor Lance Dunbar can be in the offense and why the Cowboys didn't try to trade DeMarcus Ware.

For Part 1 of the mailbag, click here.

Away we go:

 

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 2

February, 22, 2014
Feb 22
10:00
AM ET
INDIANAPOLIS -- Here's Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag.

In it we discuss whether the Cowboys were wise to move to the 4-3, the cap issues and what the Cowboys might do at safety. If you want to check out Part 1, click here.

Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 1

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
PM ET
Part 1 of the Cowboys’ Twitter mailbag is ready for your perusal.

In it we discuss the futures of Miles Austin and DeMarco Murray, if the running game will change with Scott Linehan and what the Cowboys might do at the safety spot.

Away we go:

 

Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 2

January, 25, 2014
Jan 25
12:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- The second part of the Dallas Cowboys’ Twitter Mailbag is ready for you guys.

If you have questions for next week or beyond, hit me up on Twitter (@toddarcher) and use the #cowboysmail hashtag.

Away we go:
 

Scouts Inc.: Dallas has to be heavy on D

January, 10, 2014
Jan 10
8:00
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- On Thursday Tim MacMahon and Calvin Watkins offered up their draft solutions for the Dallas Cowboys with their Final Exam takes.

Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. has his NFC East draft breakdownInsider up, and to no surprise he agreed with Tim and Calvin, believing the Cowboys have to go heavy on defense in May.

He listed defensive end, defensive tackle and safety as the priorities.

The Cowboys must address the defensive line somehow someway. It is quite possible that none of the four players they expected to make up the line in 2013 will be back in 2014. Jay Ratliff was cut last October. Jason Hatcher is coming off a career year and is a free agent. Anthony Spencer played in one game before season-ending knee surgery and is a free agent. DeMarcus Ware carries a $16.003 million salary-cap figure in 2014 and is coming off a career-low six sacks.

Barry Church had a solid season at safety but the Cowboys aren’t sure if J.J. Wilcox, a third-round pick last year, is the answer. They’re not sure Matt Johnson, their fourth-round pick in 2012, can ever stay healthy. Undrafted Jeff Heath had to start too many games in 2013.

If you’re looking for names, here’s what Muench came up with as possibilities.

Defensive end: Oregon State’s Scott Crichton, Texas’ Jackson Jeffcoat, Southern Cal’s Devon Kennard.
Defensive tackle: Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt, Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman, LSU’s Anthony Johnson.
Safety: Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, LSU’s Craig Loston, Stanford’s Ed Reynolds.

Jeffcoat will be an interesting prospect. His father, Jim Jeffcoat, played 12 years for the Cowboys, spanning the Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson eras. Jackson Jeffcoat overcame a pair of pectoral muscle tears and won the Hendricks Award, given to the nation’s top defensive end, after finishing with 12 sacks, 78 tackles and 21 tackles for a loss.

For Cowboys, no more small-school DBs

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
3:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- The NFL draft is not until May 8-10 and we will spend plenty of time dissecting players from here, there and everywhere in relation to the Dallas Cowboys.

While you should never speak in absolutes when it comes to the draft, here is one: The Cowboys do not need to draft a defensive back from a small school.

Since 2010, the Cowboys have drafted five defensive backs from small schools and have not seen one pan out yet.

It is too early to know what J.J. Wilcox will turn into. A third-round pick last year out of Georgia Southern, he had moments early in training camp and was given the starting job, which led to the release of veteran Will Allen. He missed three games with a knee injury and was unable to take the strong safety spot back from undrafted free agent Jeff Heath. Wilcox played safety for one year in college after playing running back. In small spaces, he made some plays. When the field was spread out, he did not.

B.W. Webb was the Cowboys’ fourth-round pick out of William & Mary. To put it kindly, he struggled. He was given more individual instruction on the field than any other defensive back in practice but he just lacked awareness as a rookie. He was benched late in the season in favor of Sterling Moore and was inactive for the final game.

Matt Johnson (2012 fourth round, Eastern Washington) suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the preseason. That came on the heels of him missing his rookie season with hamstring and back injuries. He has yet to play in a regular-season game. The Cowboys kept him on injured reserve and will give him another chance.

In 2011, the Cowboys took Josh Thomas in the fifth round out of Buffalo. He did not make the final roster. He will play this weekend for the Carolina Panthers against the San Francisco 49ers as a backup cornerback.

In 2010, the Cowboys used their fourth-round pick on Akwasi Owusu-Ansah out of Indiana (Pa.). His highlight film was terrific. He had all of the measurables, too. But the Cowboys weren’t sure he could play cornerback or safety. They moved him to wide receiver for a spell.

This isn’t to say small-school players can’t succeed. All you have to do is look at guys like Tony Romo, DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin, but the bulk of the quality players come from the major programs.

With so many needs to fill in the draft, the Cowboys can’t really afford to gamble on another small-school product. And especially at defensive back, if history is any indicator.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider