Eagles take Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson with top pick

Posted: April 27, 2013

Chip Kelly, mad scientist on offense, addressed that side of the ball with his first NFL draft pick Thursday night. But the new Eagles coach made an Andy Reid-like selection when he took athletic Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson with the No. 4 pick in the first round.

Kelly even sounded like Reid, who also chose a tackle when he selected first overall for the Chiefs, when he explained the Eagles' reasoning for drafting Johnson.

"Football is all about winning the game up front," Kelly said at the NovaCare Complex.

Kelly represents a new era after 14 years of Reid, but the Eagles have selected an offensive or defensive lineman in eight of their last 12 first-round picks. Only two of the eight were offensive lineman, however, the last being guard Danny Watkins.

Johnson, 22, has about as much experience playing tackle as Watkins did when the Eagles shockingly selected the former firefighter with the 23d overall pick in 2011. A former high school and junior college quarterback, Johnson moved to tackle only two years ago.

"I think he is ready, but he is raw," Kelly said. "We look at raw as a positive, not a negative. If he's doing what he's doing right now, and he's only played like two years on the offensive line . . . We felt that his ceiling is probably the highest."

Kelly was comparing Johnson to Central Michigan's Eric Fisher and Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel, the first two tackles to go 1-2 in draft history. Kelly said the Eagles had all three tackles rated "all together," although there had to be a ranking.

When Fisher and Joeckel were off the board and the tackle-needy Dolphins traded up to the No. 3 spot, it looked as though the tackles could go 1-2-3. But Miami surprised many by taking Oregon linebacker Dion Jordan.

It appeared as if the Dolphins leapfrogged the Eagles, thinking they were going to take Jordan. Kelly revealed that Jordan was among their top five. But would the former Oregon coach have taken his onetime player over Johnson if the Dolphins had selected someone else?

"I don't know what Miami thinks and I don't answer hypotheticals," Kelly said. "We had four guys we felt real comfortable with. We saw the draft the same way the other teams saw the draft. We were 1-2-3-4 and it went 1-2-3-4."

Kelly seemed content snagging the 6-foot-6, 303-pound Johnson. Even though the Eagles are getting left tackle Jason Peters, right tackle Todd Herremans, and center Jason Kelce back from season-ending injuries, the offensive line still had a hole at right guard.

Johnson will presumably start at right tackle, allowing Herremans to move inside to his natural position of guard. If he goes back to left guard, Evan Mathis will move to right guard and ahead of Watkins, who has been a disappointment.

Asked during a conference call whether he was ready to start, Johnson replied, "I think I am, yes, sir."

Kelly was noncommittal.

"We do know that Todd has some flexibility," Kelly said. "That's the great thing about him. . . . We're going to let them all battle it out."

Johnson shot up draft boards this offseason after a strong Senior Bowl and impressive combine in February. He put up spellbinding numbers for a tackle in the 40-yard dash (4.72 seconds), the vertical leap (34 inches), and the broad jump (118 inches).

Some labeled Johnson a combine warrior, in that he was to be avoided (i.e. Mike Mamula).

"When you got to the combine, you weren't like, 'Oh, my God, who's that guy?' " Kelly said. "We anticipated him having that type of combine."

But he is by no means a polished lineman - yet.

"He's got some technical things he needs to work on," Kelly said. "He's only played the position for two years. The little nuances of the position - hand placement, things like that."

Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland worked Johnson out earlier this month in his hometown of Groveton, Texas. Kelly said he spoke to Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops several times and came away impressed with Johnson's "unbelievable work ethic," he said. "He lives and dies football."

"I'm an aggressive player on the field," Johnson said. "But off the field I'm a down-to-earth guy. I'm not arrogant at all. I know Philly is a good, blue-collar town that works its tail off and is very passionate about their sports, especially about football."

After playing quarterback and tight end at Kilgore College, Johnson transferred to Oklahoma. He red-shirted one year and then played tight end and defensive end for one season. He had trouble staying at 280 pounds, though. And when the Sooners suffered injuries, Stoops asked Johnson to move to tackle.

Stoops "asked the strength coach, 'What would it take to get Lane to be 300 and play offensive tackle?' " Kelly said. "And he said, 'A cheeseburger and a week.' "

Contact Jeff McLane at jmclane@phillynews.com.

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