SNAPSHOT: “A wonderfully composed player and a slick mover, Johnson is one of the most reliable prospects in the draft with ball in hand.”
At over 190cm, Subiaco's Matthew Johnson is a very desirable midfield prospect. Players of his prototype have been all the rage in past years with the likes of Patrick Cripps and Marcus Bontempelli, but Johnson shares more similarities to Jackson Macrae and Hugh McCluggage who rely more on their skills and smarts rather, than their height to make an impact on the footy field. Johnson has great skills and clean hands and moves like a player 10cm shorter, with his agility rare to see in players of his height.
+ Clean Hands
- Contested game
Johnson has been an impressive performer for Subiaco for a number of years now and was a consistent contributor to the flag winning side in 2020. He proved one of his team's better players on grand final day along with teammate Neil Erasmus, rewarded along with Erasmus by earning selection for the AFL Academy earlier this year against the Geelong VFL side. It is safe to say Johnson has been on recruiters' radars for a while now and despite an injury at the start of the year, he managed to play out the season well, highlighted by a best on ground performance against South Australia in the AFL Grand Final curtain raiser. Johnson played a few games at League level, playing wing and half-forward which aren’t natural positions for him, but he found his feet playing midfield in the Reserves side late in the year; averaging 25 disposals and almost eight marks a game.
Johnson has a fairly good athletic base with top 10 finishes in the vertical jump tests and agility test, along with very good showings in the 20m sprint and 2km time trial. The leap hasn’t been a feature of his game but can be hard to showcase in the midfield, though the high testing for agility would come as no surprise. Johnson displays this trait often in his games, which has led to some fantastic bits of play that often set up goals, or ones he kicks himself.
Johnson is one of the cleanest players in the draft pool, whether that’s taking the ball cleanly at ground level or hitting teammates with a creative handball or well weighted kick. These traits will hold him in good stead in any role he may play at AFL level, and he might even find himself playing at half-back which could better highlight his leap and ball use. If he can make it as a midfielder, those skills and composure will serve him well nonetheless. Speaking of his composure, Johnson displays that trait in spades as he is rarely rushed with ball in hand, which allows him to make the best choice where other players would panic or just get ball on boot. His use of the ball inside 50 is another great trait he possess with well weighted kicks to advantage, and he knows his kick is his strongest asset which shows in his kick-handball ratio. Despite that, he could be a bit more adventurous by foot around the ground to hurt the opposition further.
Johnson is a consistent player disposal-wise but doesn’t get the pure volume like fellow prospects Ben Hobbs and Josh Ward. It comes down to a mixture of contested game and pure gut running to get to as many contests as possible. The contested game is something that can certainly be developed, with Johnson a fair bit lighter than Hobbs and Ward despite the height difference, so once Johnson adds some size to his frame he could develop the confidence to really attack the ball and ball carrier to make full use of that strong frame. The improvements for Johnson aren’t big issues in his game, so even if he can't make huge inroads it shouldn’t impact his standing as a very promising prospect.
DRAFT PROJECTION: First Round
There aren't many players in the draft more reliable with ball in hand than Johnson, who supporters would feel comfortable with when he is in possession by hand or foot. Although an improved attack on the ball and production could help him become a more well rounded player, Johnson is still a safe bet for a club looking to bolster its midfield in the first round of the draft.