With the 2012 NFL season in the books, and the scouting combine in the rear-view, it's time to take a closer look at the 50 players we think will be the biggest difference-makers at the next level from this draft class. To that end, we're happy to continue this year's Shutdown 50 scouting reports (Hint: There may actually be more than 50). You can read last year's group here. The final 50 players were chosen and ranked based on game tape, combine and Pro Day results, overall positional value, and attributes and liabilities on and off the field.
#6: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
We continue this year's series with Oklahoma left tackle Lane Johnson, who's been through quite the positional merry-go-round since he arrived in Norman in 2009 after a while playing quarterback at Kilgore College the year before. He explained the switches at the scouting combine:
"In high school I was playing quarterback. I was around 6-foot-6, 220. I didn’t really get many offers out of high school. I was kind of under the radar. I came from a small school. So I went to junior college and played quarterback there for a semester, then switched over to tight end during the following spring. I was weighing about 255 and ran a 4.5 40. Oklahoma ended up offering me, and I took it. I redshirted my first year as a tight end.
"Then the following year, I beefed up a little bit. I was around 280, playing tight end and defensive end. During that next spring, Jarvis Jones, our right tackle, went down. [Oklahoma head] Coach [Bob] Stoops asked me if I wanted to play it. I told him no at first. Then, in one of the pass-rush drills they switched me there, and I’ve been stuck there ever since."
So, few expected Johnson to enter the 2013 NFL draft class as one of the best players on the board, much less as a 305-pound offensive tackle. And given his limited experience at the position, it wasn't really until the Senior Bowl week that he became a real force in the eyes of many analysts. There, in direct comparative competition with Central Michigan's Eric Fisher and Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel, he proved to be every bit as convincing in his NFL future.
Johnson hammered that home at the scouting combine, because he was able to show off his freakish athleticism. Terron Armstead of Arkansas-Pine Bluff set a record for offensive linemen with a 4.71 40-yard dash, but Armstead looks like a fourth-round player on tape. It was when Johnson, with his first-round tape in tow, ran a 4.72 40 that people really stood up, took notice, and started ranking him with the Joeckels and Fishers of the world. More importantly to his position, Johnson's 1.61-second 10-yard split was the best among all offensive linemen, and he aced the agility drills. NFL teams may have already had him in rarefied air, but there was little doubt when he left Indianapolis that Johnson was going to be a top-10 player.
Most encouragingly, a closer look at Johnson's tape reveals that this is no mere workout wonder -- though he's still got some finishing work to do, there's no question about his NFL potential.
Pros: Very quick and athletic tackle who gets in his set off the snap in a hurry. Has the best pass-blocking kick-step in this draft class -- smooth, thorough, and economical when he's moving to establish the edge of the pocket. Pesky blocker at the line -- mirrors exceedingly well and matches counter-moves and foot-fakes. Uses his long arms (35 inches) to keep pass-rushers at bay and out of the octagon. Creates knockdowns with leverage; he's more powerful in one-on-one matchups than he's given credit for. Plays left and right tackle with equal aplomb. Hits to pull and shift to the second level -- he chips well and creates areas for backs by sealing the edge to linebacker depth and beyond.
Deals with speed rushers by moving quickly to block them out even when they've beaten him with a first step. Keeps those speed rushers at a distance all the way through the turn. On second-level blocks, he aims and hits very well -- he isn't just flailing around out there. Operates equally well out of two- and three-point stances -- an underrated attribute that will make him more accessible to most NFL blocking schemes.
Cons: Needs to pack on more muscle and play with better width -- doesn't always get wide in his base, will snap up too high, and lose leverage battles at times. Susceptible to inside moves if he doesn't get his hands up quickly enough. Tends to pop off blocks at times; needs to engage longer on a consistent basis. Will occasionally lunge when he should lock on and move through his progressions.
Conclusion: If there were more dominant skill-position players at the top of the 2013 NFL draft, Johnson might go more toward the middle of the round, and it's still possible that he might. With only two years of experience at offensive tackle, he's a bit of a risk as a plug-and-play guy. Most likely, and especially against the NFL's stronger, faster, and more advanced speed-rushers, Johnson will struggle at times. But he's done a great job of putting together an impressive resume on tape in a very short time, and there's no question that his athleticism makes him a very intriguing prospect at the position. Eric Fisher Luke Joeckel are the main men at the tackle position, and deservedly so, but it's not impossible to think that Johnson might be the best outside blocker in this draft class five years down the road.
NFL Comparison: Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns
More Shutdown 50:
#50: Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State | #49: John Jenkins, DL, Georgia | #48: Cornellius "Tank" Carradine, DE, Florida State | #47: Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State | #46: Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse | #45: E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State | #44: Margus Hunt, DE, SMU | #43: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson | #42: Kyle Long, OL, Oregon | #41: Mike Glennon, QB, North Carolina State | #40: Jonathan Cyprien, SS, Florida International | #39: Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame | #38: Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU | #37: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama | #36: Johnthan Banks, DB, Mississippi State | #35: Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama | #34: Matt Barkley, QB, USC | #33: Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas | #32: Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford | #31: Matt Elam, SS, Florida | #30: Alex Okafor, DE, Texas | #29: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M | #28: Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State | #27: Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia | #26: Robert Woods, WR, USC | #25: Kevin Minter, ILB, LSU | #24: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama | #23: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington | #22: Keenan Allen, WR, Cal | #21: Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame | #20: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas | #19: Sheldon Richardson, CB, Florida State | #18: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State | #17: Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU | #16: Datone Jones, DL, UCLA | #15: D.J. Hayden, CB, Houston | #14: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee | #13: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU | #12: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia | #11: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia | #10: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia | #9: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama | #8: Dion Jordan, OLB/DE, Oregon | #7: Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina