Size: Johnson has prototypical left tackle size as he weighed in at 6062 (6’6” ¼), 302 pounds with 35 inch arms. He needs to get stronger in the lower body as he is noticeably thin in his lower half, but he has the frame to add more weight.
Athleticism: Johnson is a very athletic player and you can see that when you watch him play. He is more than athletic enough to get to the second level, reach block or get out on screens. It was recently reported that he ran a sub 4.7 40 yard dash while training for the combine, so that helps put into perspective how athletic he is. He is a former tight end and defensive end, so it would not surprise me if he ran in the 4.8 range at the combine.
Technique: I went back and watched some of Lane Johnson’s 2011 games to get a feel for how his technique has developed from his junior to senior season. Based on the games I saw it has improved considerably and Johnson seems to be picking up the position quickly. He played exclusively at right tackle in the games that I saw as a junior before starting at left tackle but moving to right tackle at times during his senior year. He was capable at both positions, but his footwork still needs some improvement in my opinion. I don’t think he gets very good depth in his kick slide, and his hand placement could be improved as well. I think these are both coachable issues, but they showed up consistently when I was watching him. Given that he’s only played the position for two years he has shown consistent improvement from the beginning of his junior season to the end of his senior year, so it is reasonable to expect that he will continue to develop with NFL coaching.
Pass Protection: This is Johnson’s strong suit in my opinion. He is still learning the nuances of pass protection, but he has a lot of potential to be a very good pass blocking left tackle. He’s obviously a very good athlete and possesses impressive size and length for the position. He uses his length well and it often allows him to recover even when beaten initially. I noticed that as a junior he was consistently late off the ball which gave the defender an instant advantage, but thanks to his athleticism and length he was able to recover and force the pass rusher wide. He wasn’t as consistently late off the snap as a senior which is good to see, but it’s still something I saw often enough that I think he needs to continue to work on it. Getting off the snap late and not getting great depth in his kick slide forces him into some bad habits, one of which is abandoning his kick slide and almost running with the defensive end upfield. He got away with this pretty regularly at Oklahoma thanks to his athleticism and length, but every time I saw him do it I thought “if he does this in the NFL against a pass rusher with a good spin move he’s going to get toasted” and sure enough he did it against TCU and a back-up defensive end beat him badly with a spin move back to the inside after he forced Johnson to do this. He ended up meeting Stansly Maponga at Landry Jones, and we all know how Landry Jones handles pressure. He doesn’t do this constantly, but he does it enough that I think it’s worth mentioning, and if he doesn’t work on staying in his kick slide then he’s going to make himself very susceptible to spin moves or other inside counter moves if the pass rusher can get him off balance. It’s also worth mentioning that Johnson has some issues with bull rushes at this point thanks to his relatively thin lower body. He needs to get stronger and until he does he’s going to struggle with defensive ends who can match his length and overpower him. This may have something to do with him being new to the position, but I didn’t think he mirrored pass rushers that well, at least relative to the top offensive tackles in his class. His hand placement still needs some work and there are times he lets his hands get too wide when initiating contact, but he shows a surprisingly good feel for replacing his hands when they get too far outside or when the defender attempts to slap them away. His footwork isn’t quite where I’d like it to be, but his feet looked better just weeks after his season ended at the Senior Bowl than it did when I watched him during the season. He seems to be learning very quickly and that is going to intrigue a lot of NFL teams given his impressive athleticism and length.
Run Blocking: Johnson isn’t going to blow anyone away from a run blocking standpoint but he has plenty of skills to work with in this area. Obviously he doesn’t do a great job drive blocking given his lack of lower body strength, but he is very athletic and when he gets off the ball quickly (he is late off the ball at times on run plays as well) he can gain an instant positional advantage over the man he is blocking thanks to his quickness and speed. He gets to the second level very easily when he is asked to and I liked how he showed some nastiness to finish blocks with pancakes both in games and at the Senior Bowl. There are times that he bends at the waist and overextends in this facet of his game though and that concerns me. I don’t think he’s ever going to be a dominant, mauling run blocker, but he was effective enough at reach blocking and blocking down on defensive tackles to make me believe he wouldn’t be a liability at the next level.
Overall: Johnson is a very intriguing prospect and I understand why a lot of people like him. I don’t necessarily see a franchise left tackle when I watch him right now, but it is important to remember that he is still new to the position and figures to continue to get better once he starts getting NFL coaching. He’s a quality left tackle prospect as it stands, but he has the potential to be much better in a year or two and that is really going to intrigue left tackle needy teams in the top half of the draft order. Unlike Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher I don’t think you can draft Johnson and immediately plug him in and expect him to play at a high level. He’s still learning the position and while Joeckel and Fisher both need to improve their respective anchoring ability Johnson’s lower body is noticeably thinner than both of theirs and it shows when he is bull rushed. He’s feisty and he seems to have a knack for recovering even when initially beaten, but picturing him trying to block Julius Peppers or DeMarcus Ware when they try to bull rush him scares me. I think the best scenario for Johnson would be going to a team with a stop gap option at left tackle that can use him as a swing tackle early in his career (he can play the right side and has been used as an extra tackle in overload packages at Oklahoma) while he continues to learn, get stronger and develop. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if a team picked him in the top 15 and plugged him in right away either. He’s going to take his lumps like any rookie left tackle will, but I just don’t think he’s on the same level as Joeckel or Fisher as far as polish goes. He certainly has the same lofty upside though, he’s just not as far along in his development. He has some bad habits that make me nervous, sure, but I can’t grade him as anything less than a top 20 pick. He has a very impressive skill set.
Projection: Top 15