The Cincinnati Bengals didn't make a lot of big-name acquisitions after the NFL draft ended, but one player they did get is regarded as a quality quarterback prospect who may very well have a successful career in the league.
That's Bowling Green Falcons star Matt Johnson, who quietly was one of the most efficient passers in college football in 2015. Johnson finished the 2015 season throwing for 4,946 passing yards, enough to break not only Bowling Green records, but MAC records as well.
His passing yard total broke Ben Roethlisberger's conference record, and his 46 touchdown passes (second in the nation) are a MAC record. After his senior season, Johnson was named MAC Offensive Player of the Year, named first team All-MAC and earned the Sammy Baugh Award, which is awarded to the nation’s top passer each season.
NBC Sports called Johnson "the best QB you've never heard of" prior to the draft. Pro Football Focus tabbed him as the best developmental QB in this year's draft, even though Johnson failed to hear his named called. VICE Sports wrote that Johnson "was too good to stay a secret during his big senior season."
And as you can imagine, Johnson was one of the top undrafted free agent signings once the draft ended. PFF ranked Johnson the seventh-best UDFA signing.
7. Matt Johnson, QB, Bowling Green: Cincinnati Bengals
Matt Johnson is one of the most intriguing QB prospects in the entire draft. Everything about his play is ugly, or unconventional, lacking proper fundamentals or technique right up until the ball leaves his hand, and then you just say "wow" more than you do watching any other signal caller’s tape this season. Johnson has one of the best deep balls you will ever find, but there are other impressive passes out there too. His offense featured a very Spartan route tree, and is so divorced from an NFL, "pro-style" system it’s tough to compare, but he has some fascinating tools to work with, and makes for an interesting project going forward. Teams too often try to take a guy with the pro-style experience and teach accuracy, here the Bengals have a chance to try the reverse.
Johnson's arm talent is about as good as any quarterback prospect in this draft, so it's easy to see why he was so highly regarded going into the draft.
So what's the problem with Johnson? NFL.com's Lance Zierlein writes, Johnson's size, throwing mechanics and getting a lot of his numbers from short and quick passes will make it very hard for the Bowling Green product to make it in the NFL.
Short quarterback gets shorter with sidearm release. Struggles to see over defenses and has too many balls batted. System stat-piler. Struggles to drive throws and has to swing entire lower body through his throw like a pitcher. Won't be able to make all the NFL throws. Will hang onto ball too long. Took 35 sacks this season despite high percentage of short throws. Just over 68 percent of his attempts were inside of 10 yards. Poise in pocket is very average.
We've seen shorter quarterback excel in the NFL, but they're few and far between. Drew Brees is 6'0". Russell Wilson is 5'11". That's pretty much it in terms of short quarterbacks currently it in the NFL. There are plenty of backups and third-stringers around that 6'0" height, but it's very hard for anyone under 6'2" to make it as a full-time starter with defenses able to better expose that lack of height.
The good news for the Bengals is, their quarterback position is in good standing. Andy Dalton is a franchise quarterback. AJ McCarron is a good backup. Keith Wenning is a nice developmental guy, the same role Johnson will probably spend a few years in, if he is to make it in the NFL. Given that Wenning has already been in the league for two years, if Johnson is able to just keep the margin between those two close, the Bengals could look to keep Johnson on the practice squad as that third developmental quarterback and cut Wenning.