A Dallas Cowboys fan as a child. Now a Cowboy.
Former Eastern Washington University safety Matt Johnson was selected as the last pick in the fourth round of the National Football League draft by the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday (April 28). He was the 135th pick overall.
Johnson, whose first NFL jersey as a child was the No. 22 of Cowboy running back Emmitt Smith, will depart for Dallas next Thursday for a mini-camp.
“It’s awesome,” he said of being picked in the fourth round. “My dad grew up as a Cowboys fan, so I did too and we watched a lot of their games. I even had an Emmitt Smith jersey – it was the first one received.”
As the 135th choice overall, Johnson is only the third player in school history to be drafted in the fourth round or higher. Michael Roos was taken in the second round by the Tennessee Titans in 2005 and Taiwan Jones was picked by the Oakland Raiders in the fourth round in 2011. Both currently play for those teams.
Johnson, who finished his Eastern career with 341 tackles to rank fifth in school history and eighth all-time in the Big Sky, missed Eastern’s last four games of his senior season with a biceps injury. But because he played in 45 career games – and had impressive workouts and test results in the winter – he wasn’t particularly surprised by being picked in the fourth round. Most experts had him taken late in the draft or as a free agent signing.
“I guess you could say it was surprising by what people were predicting,” he said. “I knew the Cowboys were interested in me based on the workout I had for them in Dallas. But I had confidence in myself and my testing numbers from our pro day were good.
“I’m sure the injury and being from a FCS (NCAA Football Championship Subdivision) school probably is why people had me picked later or not drafted at all,” he added. “But I knew the fourth round was possible. When I met the coaches, they were able to see what kind of person I am and how smart of a football player I am.”
Playing with a painful biceps tendon injury since the second game of the 2011 season, Johnson underwent surgery Oct. 27 as his illustrious 45-game career came to a premature ending.
“What he’s been able to accomplish here has been amazing, both individually and what he has helped us accomplish as a team,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “He can certainly hold his head up high – he’s a great ambassador for our program.”
On Sept. 27, Baldwin announced the season-ending knee injury of Matt’s twin brother, Zach Johnson, an Eastern linebacker who graduated with his brother in 2007 from Tumwater (Wash.) High School. Before the season began, the Johnson twins were selected as Eastern’s two defensive co-captains for the 2011 season, and were preseason All-Americans.
Matt Johnson also finished second on the school’s all-time lists for interceptions (17, ranking seventh all-time in the BSC) and interception return yards (210). After starting every game in his Eastern career – with a collective record of 30-15 -- he exited tied as the all-time leader in career forced fumbles with six.
At the time of his injury Johnson was the team’s second-leading tackler with 52, including a team-high eight tackles for loss. He had 1 1/2 sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and a quarterback hurry.
He finished his career just one interception away from the school record of 18 set by Mike Richter from 1971-75. Johnson is currently tied with former NFL 10-year veteran Kurt Schulz (EWU letter winner 1988-91) and long-time Canadian Football League standout Jackie Kellogg (1990-93), who both have 17 each. Johnson was also only nine interception return yards from the record of 219 held by Schulz, and his six career forced fumbles are tied for the school record along with J.C. Sherritt (2007-10) and Chris Scott (1994-97).
Johnson had 341 tackles in his career to move into fifth all-time at Eastern – just five from moving into fourth (Derek Strey had 346 from 1994-97) and only six from third (Jason Marsh had 347 from 1991-93). Johnson had five interceptions in 2010 to help Eastern lead the FCS with 26.