Why Matt Johnson is the best developmental QB in the draft
We’ve said it before here at PFF, and we’ll likely say it again several times before the 2016 NFL draft kicks off, but this is a very intriguing quarterback class. Aside from the two players who will almost certainly go in the first round in Cal’s Jared Goff and North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz, there is a large group of intriguing developmental options. One such player is Bowling Green’s Matt Johnson — a player with prototypical flaws that in theory hold him back, but with enough big-time throws on film that set him up with potential to make something special happen in the NFL.
Johnson played in a fairly simple offense at Bowling Green. He was frequently asked to get the ball in the hands of his playmakers on wide receiver screens, and when he wasn’t doing that he was just asked to throw the ball deep. In terms of analyzing his film to see how he projects at the next level, the offense was restrictive.
But then, that’s true of a lot of quarterbacks in college. Memphis’ Paxton Lynch is being touted as potentially the third quarterback off the board and he threw the ball 20 yards or more downfield just 56 times in all of 2015, tied for the eight-least among starting quarterbacks in college. So if Johnson’s offense holds him back, Lynch’s does as well — just for different reasons.
The biggest knock on Johnson is his size — he measured in at 5-11 and a half at the NFL PA Bowl. While he isn’t the 6-4 prototypical signal caller, it’s not as if playing quarterback at his size is unheard of. Of our top 10 NFL quarterbacks in 2015, Russell Wilson is 5-11, Drew Brees is 6-feet and Tyrod Taylor is 6-1. Now, does this mean that height doesn’t matter? Not necessarily, but what it shows is that a good quarterback can overcome these things, and when you look at Matt Johnson’s film, there is a lot to like.
The deep ball
Bowling Green’s offense was built on its ability to get the ball downfield in 2015, and thanks to Johnson, they excelled in that area. No quarterback in the country had more yards or touchdowns on throws of 20 or more yards in the air than the 1,698 and 20 touchdowns that Johnson threw. Perhaps even more impressive, was that of the 107 passes he attempted downfield, just one was intercepted.
It’s one thing to throw for a lot of yards and touchdowns on interceptions, but in college where coverage can be poor, you need to look at the quality of the throw too. And when you look at the tape on Johnson, time and time again he puts the throw right on the money, hitting the wide receiver in stride.
That’s special. That’s the type of big time downfield throw that makes people forget about the fact that you’re not 6-feet-4.
Johnson was our second-highest graded passer in college last year, but we know it’s not as simple as that for where he’ll be drafted. His size might hold him back, and coming from an offense where he was rarely asked to go through his progressions to the NFL will involve some work from whichever coaching staff gets to work with him.
While he’s definitely not the type of player to step right in as a day-one starter, he could fit well as a developmental prospect in Arizona. Head coach Bruce Arians loves to throw the ball downfield, and that’s the thing that Johnson does best. Another place where I feel like he could be a great fit is with Chip Kelly in San Francisco. We know that’s meant to be a quarterback-friendly system, where Johnson could throw quick screens and go routes to create big plays.
Just like with any other prospect there are no guarantees, but if a team can snatch the guy who throws the best go routes in the draft somewhere from the fourth round onwards, he has the chance to develop.