Matt Johnson, Jermey Parnell Projections
At NBC, I previewed the seasons of Matt Johnson and Jermey Parnell. On Johnson:
Church’s move to free safety also tips the Cowboys’ hand a little regarding the other starting safety choice. While the job will be determined on the field during the preseason, you’d think Johnson, standing at 6-1, 215 pounds, has the best chance to win it. It’s unlikely that the ‘Boys will want to throw Wilcox into the mix so quickly, and Allen is a smaller safety that many assumed would compete for time at free safety.
The Cowboys are lucky to have a young player like Johnson who has the versatility to play either safety position. It’s a mild concern that Johnson has yet to play a snap in the NFL, but that’s the case with every rookie every season; Johnson is basically a rookie with a year of experience in the system. So the question is whether or not we should be excited about Johnson’s skill set in the same way we’d be excited to see a highly drafted rookie. I think we should.
In a previous scouting report on Johnson, I made this comparison:
Johnson: 6-1, 215 pounds, 4.52 40-yard dash, 10-1 broad jump, 4.07 short shuttle, 6.84 three-cone drill, 38-inch vertical, 18 reps
Player X: 6-0, 214 pounds, 4.63 40-yard dash, 10-1 broad jump, 4.06 short shuttle, 6.78 three-cone drill, 38-inch vertical, 15 reps
A few months ago, I wrote why Parnell should start over Free. The primary reason has nothing to do with Parnell possessing a higher ceiling, but rather that Parnell was already better than Free in 2012. Last year, Free allowed pressure on 6.2 percent of his snaps in pass protection. Parnell, although he allowed five sacks, allowed pressure at a 4.2 percent clip. He actually allowed sacks at twice the rate as Free, even when you consider their pressure rates. That might sound bad, but sacks are inherently volatile; once a lineman gets beat, it’s really a guessing game as to whether a sack will occur. I’ve found that sacks tend to add up to around one-quarter of all pressures. Parnell gave up five sacks but only eight pressures. Based on how much pressure Parnell actually allowed, the most likely sack total was just two, i.e. he got very unlucky.
On top of that, Parnell is superior to Free in the running game. The 6-6, 311-pound tackle looked good in limited action last year and is stronger than Free by leaps and bounds. Cowboys running backs averaged 5.06 YPC when Parnell was at the point-of-attack in 2012—the highest average behind any lineman. Meanwhile, backs totaled 2.58 YPC with Free at the point. One of those runs was a fluky 48-yard scamper by DeMarco Murray in Week 1—a play on which Free didn’t do much of anything. If you take that out of the sample, running backs averaged 1.99 YPC on 77 runs behind Free in 2012!