- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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I post this not to pile on, honestly, because I've never met Dallas Cowboys safety Matt Johnson, and I have nothing against him. I'm sure he's a nice enough young man. When I railed against the Cowboys' decision to draft him in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, it wasn't personal. It was because it seemed as though he likely still would have been available in the sixth or seventh, or even after the draft was over.
And this offseason, when I chuckled at those who insisted Johnson was the leading candidate to start alongside Barry Church at safety, or at Jerry Jones' comment that Johnson had done more to impress the Cowboys' coaches than any other player had done without actually playing in an NFL game, it wasn't out of spite or any other negative personal feeling. It was because I don't recall a player as unremarkable as Johnson is carrying this much hype.
I was eager to see Johnson play Sunday night in the Cowboys' preseason opener. I wrote Sunday afternoon about how it would be interesting to watch Johnson and rookie safety J.J. Wilcox in their first chance to make plays and deliver real hits against a hostile opponent. But Johnson had to leave that game in the second quarter with what turns out to be a stress reaction in his left ankle, so we really didn't get to see much, did we?
The issue with Johnson, thus far in his NFL career, is that he can't play. And by that I do not mean, "he's not good enough," because there's no way for me or anyone else to know that. What I mean is that Johnson can't physically get and keep himself in condition to actually go onto a football field and play a real NFL game. And until that changes, all of the big talk about his potential and what a playmaker he is and how he could be the game-changing safety the Cowboys have sought for so long is just talk. He's a fourth-round pick who probably should have been taken later and likely isn't going to make it in the NFL. If he does, great. Good for him. But to this point, the lesson of Matt Johnson is that we really should see a guy play before we convince ourselves that he can play.