Lane Johnson is a lock to be selected in the top half of the draft’s first round because of his rare athleticism. There simply aren’t many offensive tackles in this draft or even in the league already who are like him.
In run blocking, he can drop his weight and cut block on the backside of a zone play or perform a slip block to the second level as part of the zone blocking scheme’s famous combination block. When it comes to pass blocking, he matches the movements of pass-rushers with ease. If beaten by a step at the line, he usually ends up a step ahead of the rusher.
That’s rare, but not first overall pick rare. Or top offensive tackle rare.
Johnson is believed to be the third best offensive tackle in the 2013 draft class. The two ahead of him — Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel and Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher — are both athletic in their own right and more polished as blockers. Unlike them, Johnson wasn’t always an offensive tackle or tight end. For a while, he was a quarterback.
Playing quarterback is different than playing tight end and even more different than tackle. Sure, there are some similarities, such as identifying rushers and blocking schemes, but the technique is entirely different. The difference is what Johnson’s still learning to this day.
One of the aspects of the Oklahoma product’s game that stood out on tape is his strength and kickslide. He’s still putting on weight to improve his strength, which led to his struggles against bull rushers at times last season. He also still appears to be figuring out how to set into his kickslide properly.
There are times when he sets too far out and gets beat inside. Conversely, there are times when he doesn’t set out far enough and gives a free outside lane to a rusher. It’s a technique that takes time, especially if the player is new to the position. After all, not everyone can nail it down like Jake Long did when he came out of Michigan. But Long’s nowhere near the athlete Johnson is.
Against West Virginia this past season, Johnson ran into the issue of sliding out too far. He was playing right tackle on the play and had a five technique linebacker lined up outside his right shoulder.
The six-foot-six, 303 pound tackle was set up by the outside linebacker’s speed rush. The defender ran straight upfield, making it seem like he was going to run an outside arc before bending his knees and sinking his shoulders to make a cut inside.
When the defender went inside, Johnson struggled to slow him because all of his weight was shifted outside. He attempted to extend his arms to reroute the rusher, but it was difficult to do it with power. At this point, the oncoming rusher is concerning for the quarterback because he’s taking the shortest and most direct path to him. The quarterback in this case is Landry Jones, who is the antithesis of a passer with pocket presence and poise.
Fortunately for Johnson, the pass blocking scheme was a six-man protection, so he had help on the inside from his fullback. However, he won’t always have help at the next level, so he’ll have to improve. It seems there’s a good chance he will considering his rapid development since being moved to the tackle position.
Once a quarterback in junior college (and briefly later a tight end at Oklahoma), Johnson has the look of a very good player at the next level. Along with his outside athleticism, which he claims to be the best of any tackle in the draft, he’s very confident and a hard worker. That combination will give him a good chance to live up to his billing and be a top 12 selection.