NORMAN — For two years, Oklahoma’s coaching staff and players marveled at Lane Johnson’s athletic ability. They told tales of a large man who could move in ways and at speeds that just didn’t seem physically possible.
Well, after four months of analysis, the NFL has agreed. The offensive tackle is going to be the first Sooner selected when the 2013 NFL Draft begins Thursday night in New York. Johnson will not have to wait long to hear his named called.
ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay has Johnson as the 10th best player available. McShay also believes Johnson might have the highest ceiling of any player in the draft.
“This guy is an unbelievable athlete,” McShay said. “If he develops into the player that he’s trending towards, Johnson’s got a chance to be the best of the group. He’s got a chance to be one of the top tackles in the NFL.”
ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr., agrees.
“Lane Johnson is solidly one of the top 11 players in the draft. I think he goes in the top seven right now,” he said.
It’s an incredible jump from where Johnson was four years ago when OU recruited the former high school quarterback to play tight end. It’s stunning from three years ago when he was making the switch to defensive end.
That’s the thing about Johnson that has the NFL scouts so intrigued. Throughout his football career, he’s outgrown positions without losing his athletic ability.
OU has sent several offensive linemen to the NFL who were recruited to play other positions. Jammal Brown won the Outland Award in 2004 and was first-round pick by the New Orleans Saints in the 2005. He was originally recruited as a defensive lineman.
Davin Joseph was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ first pick in 2006. OU projected him as a defensive linemen, too.
The difference between them and Johnson is they had at least played offensive line before they got to college and made the move to the offensive line as freshmen.
“When we recruited and signed Lane, we did so just on what a big athlete he was, not having an idea where he’d end up growing,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “It’s like the whole journey… He was starving himself to play at 270 to play defensive end. I asked (strength and conditioning coach Jerry) Schmidt how long it would take him to get to 300 pounds. He said about a week and a cheeseburger. It didn’t take him long.
“Sometimes with these big, long guys that are really athletic, you don’t know when they’re going to stop growing. Everybody here is excited for Lane. He’s worked hard, too. He’s always been one of our best workers in the weight room, sprints, running. I knew he’s run well. That didn’t surprise any of us. He’s worked hard, too, to put himself in his position.”
The 4.72-second 40-yard dash he ran at the NFL Combine, coupled with the 34-inch vertical leap, 118-inch broad jump and 4.52-second time in the 20-yard shuttle drill displayed the athletic ability teammates have been talking about for several years.
“We told you,” OU offensive lineman Gabe Ikard said. “He’s a guy who has earned everything he’s gonna get and has worked very hard for it. You don’t see guys go from junior college quarterback to top-10 pick at left tackle very often. You have to be pretty special to do that.”
Everyone will find out how special Thursday.
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