Johnson Goes From Junior College To No. 4 Pick

When the Dolphins traded up to the No. 3 spot, Lane Johnson thought he was headed to Miami.

And he wasn’t the only one. Jake Long signed with St. Louis in free agency, and the Dolphins desperately needed an offensive tackle to protect Ryan Tannehill. But when Roger Goodell got to the podium to announce the No. 3 pick, the name that came out of his mouth was Oregon outside linebacker Dion Jordan.

“So after that took place, I knew I had a good vibe for Philly,” Johnson said. “After I got a phone call from a Pennsylvania number, I knew it was time.”

It’s been quite the journey for the Eagles’ first-round pick. He started his college career at Kilgore (junior) college, playing quarterback and weighing 220 pounds. He started bulking up and caught the attention of Bob Stoops and the Oklahoma Sooners.

They tried him out at tight end and then defensive end. But Johnson continued to grow, and because of injuries, they moved him to the offensive line.

“The toughest was actually from quarterback to tight end,” Johnson said. “From being such a glorified position and then going to tight end where your hand’s in the dirt, and there’s a lot of physicality involved, that was probably the toughest transition.

“Going to tackle my first year, junior year, was a learning experience, and it kind of felt weird because I had been a skill position player my whole life. And then going to tackle was just kind of a weird experience. Going into my senior year, I knew I had the talent. I just kept on working and developing, and things went well for me.”

That qualifies as an understatement.

Johnson was on the radar of NFL teams back in January, but he had no clue back then that he would be a first-round pick. The pre-draft process was crucial for him.

“One of my main areas of focus was to have a good Senior Bowl,” Johnson said. “I wanted to show people that I’m a good football player and not just a test athlete. And so once I had a good week there, I knew the Combine was going to be kind of icing on the cake with the tests and numbers and stuff. So it’s all part of the process, and it’s finally over.”

In Indianapolis, Johnson put together perhaps the most impressive testing performance ever by an offensive lineman.

“I think Lane Johnson had the freakiest Combine in the history of our coverage of the Combine,” said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock.

He ran a 4.71 40 and displayed a 34-inch vertical (more details here).

Chip Kelly said the Combine was just part of the evaluation and stressed that Johnson is far from a finished product, going as far as to call him “raw.” But he explained that’s part of what the Eagles loved about him – his upside.

Asked if he’s ready to start right away, Johnson said, “I think I am. Yes sir.”

Kelly made a point to mention that jobs will be won and lost on the field. But barring injuries, the Eagles’ offensive line will likely feature Johnson at right tackle, Todd Herremans at right guard, Jason Kelce at center, Evan Mathis at left guard and Jason Peters at left tackle.

Johnson played right tackle his junior year and moved to the left side as a senior. Asked if he has a preference, he said, “I really don’t care. I try to be as balanced as possible. Whatever Coach Kelly and them need, I’m going to do.”

One part of the Eagles’ program that shouldn’t be too tough for Johnson to adjust to is tempo. Oklahoma ran 77.3 plays per game last season, while Kelly’s Oregon squad ran 81.5.

From junior college to the No. 4 pick, from Kilgore, Texas to Philadelphia, Johnson is excited about taking the next step.

“I’m ready to get started,” he said. “And I’m very fortunate to be with the Eagles.”

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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