The positional journey for Lane Johnson through his collegiate life is truly amazing.
He was a quarterback-turned tight end-turned defensive end-turned offensive tackle, where he now will likely be a top-seven pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
The Oklahoma Sooners’ offensive tackle is a special athlete; he ranked in the top five in all positional drills at the combine, highlighted by his exceptional explosion and change of direction skills.
He played in the Sooners’ Air Raid offense, where he was able to play predominantly from a two-point stance. In 2011 he lined up at right tackle, and flipped over to the left side in 2012.
When it comes to the athleticism needed to line up at the tackle position in the NFL, Johnson has that in spades.
Johnson uses his athleticism to get himself into good position on initial contact.
The lineman has the ability to come out slow in his movement, but recover and get on the defender immediately.
Johnson shows an incredible ability to mirror his defender, which again stems from his unbelievable athletic ability.
When he locks onto a defender in pass protection, he is able to move them past the quarterback or stone them and not allow them to advance.
He uses good hand placement and consistently fights to get inside position on his defender’s pads.
While Johnson has issues maintaining his positioning on contact and “holding” onto his man, it’s not from lack of effort.
Johnson is still extremely raw in the knowledge and technique base of his game, often taking bad angles, giving up the wrong shoulder, or overall just missing in the run game.
When he does make the right reads, Johnson is ferocious.
He plays with an undeniable nasty streak, playing through the whistle.
He is excellent in space when going toward the edge or getting to the perimeter in the run game.
When asked to move to the second level he does so with extremely light feet, and is excellent in accelerating through his blocks.
Technique and Build
Johnson is thin in his frame and lacks the desired build in his lower body at this time.
Too often this will lead to Johnson playing with poor technique in the pass and run game. He can get his base too wide, which causes him to get off balance and the defender to beat him with a counter move.
He didn’t give up many sacks, and that’s because he was so athletically gifted that when he over-set himself initially, or when he over extended allowing for a counter move, he was able to recover with elite change of direction skill.
When it comes to the run game, we discussed his flaws earlier: He often aims wildly, causing him to take on defenders incorrectly. This will allow the defender to free himself and make plays in the run game.
Athlete vs. Experience
When it comes to Johnson, there is a divide amongst many within the draft community.
Johnson is one of the most elite physical specimens we have seen come out in the draft in years. He moves like a tight end, but has the build and size of a franchise left tackle.
The problem is simply that he’s been a left tackle — and for that matter, a tackle in general — for such a short time that it’s hard to gauge how effective of a player he will be at the immediate onset of his career.
His athletic ability made up for his inexperience technically and allowed him to be a more dominant overall player in games and on film than he actually is.
Can he make the transition from athletic freak to masterful technician and become an elite left tackle in the league? Or is he so raw and underdeveloped that he won’t be able to make an impact?
People know I am not overly excited with taking Lane Johnson at the seventh pick in the draft, and it’s not because I don’t see the upside or potential greatness.
It’s simply because the Cardinals — and mainly Carson Palmer and Bruce Arians — need a guaranteed upgrade from Levi Brown right now.
Is Johnson an upgrade? I think he can be, but I don’t think he will be as soon as he steps on the field. Technically speaking, he needs work on the little things, and while that may lead to him becoming the best left tackle in the draft like some experts are saying, it doesn’t mean it will happen in a timely manner.