Roob's Observations: Gauging Lane Johnson's Hall of Fame chances
Roob's Observations: Gauging Lane Johnson's Hall of Fame chances originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
How an injury may have helped Lane Johnson’s Hall of Fame chances, a look at the defense two weeks after the start of free agency and a look back at the real reason DeMarco Murray struggled with the Eagles.
Here are this week’s 10 Random Eagles Offseason Observations to help you get through the dead zone between free agency and the draft!
1. The irony of Lane Johnson’s torn adductor injury is that playing three playoff games with a very serious injury – and playing at a very high level – finally brought Johnson the national recognition he’s deserved for so long. Super Bowl week was huge for Johnson, who must have shared his unique story 100 times with media from all over the world. Remember, Johnson’s suspensions in 2014 and 2016 created a narrative around his career that wasn’t easy to change. Johnson has now played six seasons without banned substances and without a suspension, and he's made four Pro Bowls and two all-pros during that span.
We all know he hasn’t allowed a sack since Week 10 of the 2020 season and or a QB hit since Week 7 of 2021. I feel like the football world is finally starting to realize what we’ve all known for years – he’s the best tackle in football. When Johnson signed a one-year extension through 2026 this past week, it raised the possibility he might continue playing for several more years, instead of the two more seasons he’s talked about recently. And if he does, how will that affect his Hall of Fame chances? My take: It won’t be easy, but he’s got a legit shot. The reality is that Pro Bowls and all-pro awards are crucial to a player’s Hall of Fame chances, and Johnson didn’t pick up either one until his fifth season. But since 2017, only Trent Williams has more Pro Bowls than Johnson among tackles and nobody’s made all-pro more than Lane – David Bakhtiari and Williams have also made two. Johnson turns 33 in a few weeks and it’s fair to wonder how long he’ll play at this level. But two more all-pros and I believe he’s in Canton.
In NFL history, 45 offensive linemen have made all-pro first team four times. Of those 45, 38 are in Canton, three aren’t eligible yet (including Kelce), one was kept out because he murdered his wife, and the three others played in the 1940s. So every offensive lineman who made all-pro four times in the last 68 years and wasn’t part of a murder-suicide is a Hall of Famer. Johnson already has four Pro Bowls, two all-pros, two Super Bowl appearances and one championship – all in the last six years. And no sign of slowing down. And once you start racking up those postseason honors while playing at an elite level, you can keep piling them up. He’s got a real shot at this.
2. If Lane does go into Canton, that’s most likely three Hall of Famers for Jeff Stoutland, which is insane. Jason Kelce is a lock and Jason Peters is darn close to a lock. Get this: In Eagles history, offensive linemen have made first-team all-pro a total of 21 times. That’s 11 times in 72 years before Stoutland and 10 times in 10 years with Stoutland.
3. I still don’t get what happened to Miles Sanders in the Super Bowl. Here’s a guy who ran for nearly 1,300 yards with 11 touchdowns and a 4.9 average during the regular season, and in the biggest game of his life, he was a complete non-factor against an average run defense – the Chiefs were 15th in opposing rush average at 4.4. Sanders ran 7 times for 16 yards and a 2.3 average in the Super Bowl (and had that fumble returned for a touchdown that was reversed). He did hurt his hand at one point, but he was healthy enough to return to the game. The Eagles scored 35 points without him playing much of a role, but it’s still a mystery why one of the Eagles’ biggest weapons all year was just so shockingly ineffective.
And who knows, if the Eagles had been able to establish the run better maybe they could have kept Patrick Mahomes and that Chiefs offense off the field more. Sanders became only the third back in NFL history to rush for 1,250 yards during a regular season and then average 2.3 yards or worse in a Super Bowl, joining Thurman Thomas and Marshall Faulk. And then before you knew it, he was a Panther, and that was that. Just a weird and unfortunate ending to a terrific four years here.
4. The only players in Eagles history with back-to-back games with 100 rushing yards and two touchdowns are Steve Van Buren and Bryce Brown.
5. Jalen Hurts is already the only QB in NFL history with three career games with three rushing TDs (Saints in 2021, Bears and Chiefs in 2022). Only Daunte Culpepper (2000, 2007), Johnny Lujack (1950, 1951) and Tobin Rote (1954, 1956) have had two. Only 14 other QBs have had one.
6. Ezekiel Elliott was never going to happen, but the hilarious thing out of all of this is the DeMarco Murray comparison so many people have been making. History has judged Murray as a big-money free agent bust with the Eagles, but I’ve always been convinced that his failure here was more a product of how Chip Kelly used him than anything else. Kelly had no idea how to design plays to Murray’s strength, and it was rough watching the previous year’s NFL Offensive Player of the Year average 3.5 yards per carry running outside zone under Kelly. But I’ll never forget his first carry against the Giants on the last day of the season after Kelly was fired and Pat Shurmur took over – quick hitter behind right guard, and he explodes downhill for a 54-yard touchdown – his longest TD in four years.
And then Murray was fantastic the next year with the Titans, rushing for 1,287 yards and nine touchdowns with a 4.4 average, catching 53 passes for 377 more yards and three more TDs and making another Pro Bowl. Howie Roseman absolutely did the right thing moving on from Murray after 2015, but his issues here were more about the coach than the player.
7. After the Super Bowl, I was ready to cut Quez Watkins on the spot. And you can understand why. But I’ve softened my stance a bit. Here’s why. Despite a miserable 2022 season with the drops and fumbles, I’ve seen him make big plays in big moments, and I’ve always believed in giving guys second chances. He’s shown he can do it. He’s proven it. Watkins has one trait that everyone is looking for. Despite his issues, he’s got four 50-yard catches over the last two seasons, and only five NFL players have had more (Ja’Marr Chase, Deebo Samuel, Tyreek Hill, Cooper Kupp, Tyler Lockett).
There’s no guarantee Watkins will bounce back to 2021 form, but where else are you going to find a guy who can do what he’s done? I still think the Eagles need to add a receiver or two, but I like that Watkins was accountable after the season and seemed determined to bounce back, and he was banged up the second half of the season, which would help explain his struggles. I’m fine with the Eagles giving him another chance. Nothing to lose and you might find yourself with a big-play receiver who’s already under contract.
8. Devon Allen isn’t the first big-time hurdler to spend time with the Eagles. Did you know Mike Quick was once among the top hurdlers in the country? Quick ran 13.74 for the 110-meter high at North Carolina State in 1982, and that remains the 2nd-fastest time in school history, behind Terry Reese’s 13.60 in 1988. Quick placed 3rd in the 1982 ACC Championships in Charlottesville. Fortunately for the Eagles, he decided after college to focus on football.
9. It cracks me up when I hear people talk about how Donovan McNabb never won any big games. Only 12 quarterbacks in NFL history have won more playoff games than 5. Eleven of them are either in the Hall of Fame or will be. Playoff games are big games, last time I checked.
10. Howie Roseman has done a terrific job finding inexpensive and experienced pieces on defense. Terrell Edmunds, Greedy Williams, Justin Evans and Nick Morrow have all been full-time starters at some point, all but Morrow were 1st- or 2nd-round picks and they all came here on cap-friendly one-year deals. Add Nakobe Dean, Jordan Davis and Reed Blankenship to the mix and you have a bunch of potential starters on what we’ve known all along was going to be a rebuilt unit. But be careful just assuming the defense won’t miss a beat. A lot of things will have to fall into place for that to happen. Edmunds has fewer interceptions in five seasons than C.J. Gardner Johnson had in 12 games. Williams was one of the lowest-ranked corners in the NFL last year according to Pro Football Focus.
Evans missed three of the last four seasons. Morrow was one of the lowest-rated linebackers on PFF last year. Dean, for all his promise, only played 34 snaps last year. Davis had some flashes but was up and down. Blankenship was impressive but only for five games. All that on top of a new defensive coordinator, new linebacker coach and new secondary coach. That’s a lot of change. I still think this has the makings of a very good defense. But every projected starter other than Josh Sweat and Haason Reddick will be either new and unproven or over 30, and the schedule looks awfully challenging.
So while it’s easy to say the Eagles have replaced everyone, that’s a leap of faith right now. There are question marks all over the place and a lot of work to do. The potential is there. The possibility is there. And there will be help coming in the draft and other places as well. I don’t think Roseman could have done more than he has considering the cap restraints he’s under. That said, replacing the production, chemistry and leadership the Eagles got from Gardner-Johnson, Javon Hargrave, T.J. Edwards, Kyzir White and Marcus Epps – as well as the defensive coaches who left – is not going to be easy.