On the Lane Johnson/Danny Watkins Comparison

Eagles fans never forget.

Just last week, during ESPN’s 30 for 30, Elway To Marino, a reader Tweeted me, saying he threw his remote across the room when footage was shown of the Eagles selecting running back Michael Haddix with the No. 8 pick in 1983. A graphic scrolled across the screen during the film, explaining that Haddix had the lowest yards-per-carry average (3.0) in the history of the NFL.

To make matters worse, of the 20 players selected after Haddix in the first round that year, four went on to have Hall of Fame careers: Bruce Matthews, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino and Darrell Green.

So when the Eagles used the No. 4 pick last week on Lane Johnson, some fans couldn’t help but take a stroll down memory lane and ask: Did the Birds just take another Danny Watkins?

There is one primary reason to compare the two: experience.

If we look just at offensive line experience, Watkins actually had more than Johnson entering the league. He played two years at Butte (Junior) College and then two more at Baylor. Johnson, on the other hand, has a total of two years – both at Oklahoma. He had never played offensive tackle before in his life.

But there’s a little more to it than that. Watkins had never played football until 2007 when he was 23-years-old. He was 26 when he was drafted and asked to move from tackle to guard. He turns 29 in November and faces an uncertain future with the team that took him 23rd overall.

I went back and looked at some of the things written about Watkins when the Eagles drafted him. While most believed he was a really good prospect, this line from NFL.com’s scouting report stood out:

Raw football player that does not always recognize stunts and blitzes and can get caught out of position.

That’s a pretty good summation of his issues through two years in the NFL.

Johnson, meanwhile, turns 23 this month. He comes from a football town in East Texas. His stepdad coached at the high school level, and he’s been playing the game since he was a kid – just not always as an offensive lineman.

Johnson most notably played quarterback in high school and in junior college.

“When you’re a quarterback, you know where people are on the field,” Johnson said. “You know your protections and you know the defensive alignments. Now, playing tackle, it’s easier to see things and you have a greater appreciation for protecting the quarterback because I know how it feels to get sacked on your blind side when you obviously can’t see it.”

There’s also the issue of athleticism. Watkins was considered a good athlete, but Johnson is off the charts.

The site Mockdraftable.com has a terrific graphic showing Johnson’s measurables compared to other offensive tackles. He’s in the 96th percentile or higher in the 40-yard dash, the 10-yard dash, the 3-cone drill, the vertical jump and the broad jump. Those things don’t always translate to the field, but clearly, there are tools to work with.

The Eagles were able to watch tape on Johnson at both right tackle (junior year) and left tackle (senior year). Chip Kelly is friendly with Bob Stoops and was able to speak to him “extensively” about Johnson’s makeup and work habits.

All of this is to say there are differences between Johnson and Watkins as prospects. But it’s fair to acknowledge that Johnson is no slam dunk. Kelly admitted as much when he called Johnson “raw” last week and talked about his upside. His stock rose significantly after the season (Senior Bowl, Combine, etc.).

Part of the selection had to do with who else was available. Guys like Ziggy Ansah, Barkevious Mingo and Tavon Austin have their own question marks.

The Eagles evaluated the talent available and went with the guy they graded the highest. Now it’s up to the coaching staff to draw the most out of him. There’s always the chance that Johnson fails to meet expectations, but from this perspective, the thought process seems sound.

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  • JofreyRice

    In terms of T’s, Johnson is definitely the most “boom or bust” of the three. He seems to really care about the game, though, which gives me hope. Also, his “arrow” points up, he got better every week at Oklahoma. There will be more mistakes than with Joeckel or Fisher, but he seems to have a pretty good amount of resilience, having played so many different positions for Stoops–a lot of guys would get pissed off and half-ass it; especially when you think about the whole narrative–how he went from glamour to grunt.

    A look at Watkins’ career trajectory provides a cautionary tale for the “raw but talented, ‘high-upside’ ” first round selection. Sometimes, that inexperience can indicate either

    A) Former lack of interest – Football was never that important, which might affect work habits and development as a pro.

    B) Over-reliance on natural athletic superiority in college that will be negated at the pro level. The pick will be severely behind the curve in terms understanding and applying technique. The distance between the pick and everyone else may never be closed.

    • GEagle

      Good post man….Watkns made himself into a round 1 prospect as a dude who already had his grown man strength, beating up on boys in the trenches…Lane turned himself into a highly coveted Tackle prosect, without having close to the body and strength he will have by the time he turns 26……LANES passion for football can never be questioned, as you so perfectly put it, going from Glamor to grunt so that he can stay on the field…Everytime Lane speaks, you can see the wide eyed, Big Cuntry kid, who has that Friday night light passion for the game.mFootball has clearly always been his life….He certainly has some of the highest bUst potential, but the Charecter/passion/ and superior Physical attributes have me not worrying about him busting…..It’s sooo Odd for me to have so much comfort, penciling in a Raw rookie in at RT, but this kid just doesn’t worry me..

      • Jack Waggoner

        I’m not sure Watkins wouldn’t have had more success in a traditional non-zone-blocking system like Castillo ran. And probably still could.

        • GEagle

          Agreed…a scheme that doesn’t ask him to pass block 50 times a game could have also helped Danny…I don’t rule him out AT ALL. I’m ok with giving any prospect drafted in the first 5rounds ATleast 3 years to prove himself…I was basically just speaking from the feeling and impressions I get from the two…basically, just the eye test….We should be able to comfortably pass judgement on Danny after this year. if he doesntarrive in his 3rd year at the age of 29, then he has to go!!!…I think Lane will make some mistakes this year, but my gut says he handles the RT spot admirably…by Midseason, I expect him to already be comfortable(assuming the rest of his linemates are still healthy, because he will definitely need either Todd or Evan next to him at all times)….very excited about our offense…and if Nick Foles is the starter, it will mean that he has improved and he earned the starting spot, so that wold make me very excited….If Vick is the starter, I think it will just be a case of Nick not having improved as much as we would have liked…so naturally I will be rooting for the young kid, to improve…because If Nick is the starter it means he can be a good starting QB in the NFL, in chips mind!

        • JofreyRice

          Eh, I dunno. It’s not like Mudd was asking them to block with their elbows or something. I think it’s very likely Kelly runs some kind of ZBS as well. IMO, Watkins really struggled with stunts & twists, and power rushers in passblocking situations–I don’t think a man blocking system is going to fix that.

          I really tend to think Watkins was just a very bad pick. If I were his agent, I’d tell him to retire, and enjoy the time he has left. Play with his grandkids, take up painting, maybe go to Chinese auctions for some excitement.

          • BlindChow

            But wasn’t Mudd’s scheme predicated on attacking the man you’re blocking, instead of waiting for him to come to you? This means if you’re “attacking” a guy who isn’t blitzing, or is off looping around another DT, you will find yourself sorely out of position to block the guy who IS coming through your gap on the line.

            I’m willing to see how Watkins does in a traditional OL system before writing him off completely.

          • JofreyRice

            From what I understand, Mudd ran a ZBS that put stress on the defense *horizontally*, with the sprint draw and stretch plays, and favored athletic lineman that could get out to the second level. I think Kelly runs the more standard *vertical* ZBS like Shanarat/Kubiak popularized, but I think it also incorporates horizontal stuff on the OZR play. I think it would be surprising to see him go with a man/angle/power blocking system like SF runs. Kelly’s whole thing seems to be about numbers advantages, and overloading a zone w/more blockers than defenders is what made the ZBS so successful.

            I don’t think there are many systems that minimize an OL’s inability to deal w/stunts in pass pro, as evidenced by the success of the 49ers against just about everyone. I think the ability to identify and react to that kind of thing is prerequisite for being a starting NFL OL.

            I guess it’s technically *possible* Watkins’ somehow redeems his bust status by either beating out Todd Herremans for the Right Guard spot, or by beating out Evan Mathis, but I’d say it’s highly unlikely, this year, consdering Jake Scott was a better option right off the lazy boy. Maybe he takes over for either one of those guys in 2-3 years–but at that point, Watkins himself will be 31 or 32.

            I tend to try and not overthink this one: he sucks, and it was a horrible pick.

          • Jack Waggoner

            Look, I’m not debating that the guy is a bust. That ship has sailed. The question is, can he still be a good or even decent player?

          • JofreyRice

            Like I said, I think he’s destined for the bench behind Mathis and Herremans for at least a year or 2. Maybe he’ll provide competent depth until he becomes a starter again in his mid 30’s?

          • Jack Waggoner

            Kelly will run a ZBS, I’m pretty certain, but I think Watkins has thus far not excelled in such a scheme. I think if he went to one of the teams that does not run ZBS then he has a better chance at success.

          • JofreyRice

            Truthfully, i’m not even sure I know all the teams that run majority man blocking anymore. SF for sure. Pittsburgh? Tampa Bay? Jets maybe, but probably not under Morn-hen-wig. ZBS really fits well with the spread stuff that’s crept into the pros. Maybe Watkins could have been a decent player 20 or 30 years ago, on a different team, in a different reality. There is some interesting string theory out there about all the extra dimensions existing right on top of us in which Danny Watkins doesn’t suck.

          • CTAZPA

            He’s a second year, blue collar strong man. He’s not going to ever be a star, but I’m rooting for the guy to contribute. I love the other dimension comment. I admit that he may benefit from the added opportunities.

          • GEagle

            titans or jets id say….mudd ran of complicated Finesse Scheme that even our veterans took a while getting down…basically, pass blocking instead of stepping back, its like you are blocking for run action pass

  • http://twitter.com/ChrisHorn10 Chris Horn

    In fairness though, Watkins despite his lack of football experience was billed as a finished product. A guy who could walk in from the draft and be an instant solid starter and probowl candidate. The terms raw and potential were used very little with him from what I remember.

    • borntosuffer

      Yes, I am remembering the same thing.

    • JofreyRice

      I think that might have been a narrative advanced by folks trying to apologize for the pick. There was quite a bit of that, at the time. His agent, Joe Panos, was going around talking about how Watkins might not be a finished product, but that he’d pick stuff up after seeing it once, and how his inexperience was good because he had less wear and tear on the tires than other players his age.

      • cliff henny

        yeah, rememeber them saying he wasnt 26 in a football sense, so his age wasnt a huge factor. they were pretty consistant on that pick-consistantly wrong on all fronts.. believe that guy has another 2m coming his way this year? smith was right to fire his agent, if you’re going to be a bust, best to be first round bust

        • GEagle

          The intellectual scholar from the beautiful Stockton California, Mr. Nick Diaz would say(about Watkins)…”someone sold us wolf tickets”

  • GEagle

    I feel soooo much better about drafting Lane, then I did when we drafted Watkins..Geez Damny is already about to turn 29. As we stand today, ATleast Lane has potential to one day, literally become an ALL PRO OT…As for WAtkns, today I would feel fortunate if I could count on him as a servicablep backup….Lane is a country boy raised in football crazed Texas, who played whatever position his coaches asked so that he could stay on the field and play the game he obviously loves. You gotta feel good abut that compared to a 29yr old who’s passion for the game is seriously in Question…
    ….
    to quote Baldi..”The game is no longer played between the tackles, in a 3yard cloud of dust. Today it’s all about the perimeter”.,,

    So getting a Big, athletic kid, who isn’t even close to growing into the monster he is destined to become…who has as much ability to get out on the perimeter, and get to the second level has to be considered a Homerun…and it’s certainly very exciting for a kid with that ability, to be brought into a team that has the most athletic Monster in the game, who seems to be working and carrying himself like a man possessed to get back on the field and take back his throne as the premier tackle in the NFL..The example Peters will set, this season, when he is sooo hungry, and teaching the nuances of how to use that freak athleticism will be priceless to Lane’s development….
    ……
    I just can’t wait to see the first bubble/tunnel screen to Ertz,Arrelius,Desean with Lane leading the way

    There is a very real chance, that 3years from now we will be laughing at KC and Jax, and owe them both a thank you note!!! Lol….Me thinks the bears will be laughing at the, as well(for Kyle Long)…..But hey, The Cowboys draft Fredick in round 1……hahahahahaha

  • borntosuffer

    Man, I got really scared when I saw a “Watkins” and “Lane” comparison for the headline. Use those types of comparisons sparingly Sheil. They take years off my life.

  • Honest_T

    Something Sheil alluded to but didn’t extrapolate, is that Lane’s upside is greater because he is a student of the game, which gets back to CK’s focus on football intelligence.

    Being a QB, TE, DE, and an OT all at a level above High School means he was somewhere along the learning curve at each position. He has been reading defenses, studying blocking technique, developing his own rushing technique, and even thinking through the mental games in the trenches (how to set -up your moves) from both the offensive and defensive sides. You can see why CK would love an enormous and agile man, that not only has room to improve his technique, but can understand the entire field.

    I concede that his inability to stick at one position may be indicative of something, but too often people focus on his physical attributes or his motivation, when Lane’s success (or lack thereof) is more likely going to be tied to the mental side of his game. He will be going against some beasts in the NFC East, who have made millions off of their ability to continually exploit either a mental of physical weakness in their opponent, and while Lane has the physical gifts to compete, he will have to know how rushers are setting him up, along with how and when to counter their moves, if he is going to succeed.

    • http://www.corcommunity.com/ theycallmerob

      “I concede that his inability to stick at one position may be indicative of something”

      It’s indicative of his willingness to be a team player. The kid is an athletic freak, and Stoops knew he could handle multiple positions- which he was moved to as a result of injuries/depth. This has been reported multiple times. There have been no known incidents or coaches to even question the character or mental capacity of Mr. Johnson (24/7 community, please correct me if I’m wrong on that last charge)

    • Warhound

      “…his inability to stick at one position may be indicative of something…” It’s indicative that he didn’t stop growing.

    • dislikedisqus

      Agree. He may not have OL experience but he has a lot of experience making football decisions.

  • Max Lightfoot

    Lane Johnson could be a bust, because at No. 4 no team should draft a project, which he is. But the way I see it, all he has to do is be a competent NFL tackle, which improves the Eagles’ O-line. Which needs improvement. Big time. If he becomes a dominant lineman, they win the Lotto.

    • GEagle

      Tebow wasnt a project…and was as accomplished as a college player that you could find…should he have bee drafted 4th?…this not drafting a project cliche is sooo tired. Let me fill you in on a secret..90% of college players transitioning to the pro’s are projects on some level…about 10% of the kids ever drafted, were sure fire, ready NFL players that required very little projection……Does the prospect have physical ability to become an elite NFL player? Does the prospect have High Football IQ, Love fore the game, competitive drive?….If both answers are a clear YES, than he is worth the 4th pick

    • Richard Colton

      If all Lane Johnson ever becomes is a “…competent NFL tackle” I’ll be severely disappointed. He was the 4th pick in the draft! If he becomes a pro-bowl right tackle, all-pro guard, or very good (top 10) LT for 8 or 9 years, it justifies the pick. Anything less – no. And I don’t need Howie to manage my expectations by comparing him to Nate Solder. I need him to be better than Nate Solder.

      • JofreyRice

        Agreed. “Competent” is way too low a bar to set for investing a pick you get once every 10 years (hopefully). Gotta be a slam dunk guy you expect to be in the top 5 at his position at some point in the next 3 years.

        • Bite Mee

          Hey the Raiders pick in the top 10 every year

      • Max Lightfoot

        After last year’s debacle, you’ll be “severely disappointed”? Not me. Last year the Eagles had the worst line in the NFL. Period. I’d like to see a competent tackle on the squad besides Peters. As I wrote, if Lane Johnson becomes dominant, they’ll have hit the jackpot. Every tackle after Fisher and Joeckel is a reach. There are plenty of fourth-pick busts, like JaMarcus Russell and Blaine Gabbert. But YMMV …

        • GEagle

          Lane will be better than Fish and Joek…says my gut! lol

        • Richard Colton

          My Mendoza line for this pick is Joe Thomas, so yeah. If he’s average, I’ll be disappointed. Not even a little bit OK. I hear what you’re saying – you get a good player, be thankful he’s not a bust. But #4 is supposed to be a franchise changing pick. Top 15 RT doesn’t do it for me.

      • GEagle

        Competant? Dont get it twisted…its ALL PRO, or BUST!!! Too talented, too much potential, to only become competant. We need him to be better than both Fisher and Joekel!

  • Evan

    No mention of Watkins’ “chronic ankle?” Surely that is an important factor.

    • hillbillybirdsfan

      Remember when Rocky was advised not to take a rematch against Apollo Creed because of his eye injury? Then it somehow went away, enabling him to fight like 20 more times. I think Rocky’s eye and Watkins’ chronic ankle are very similar in the sense that they’re both fictional.

      • UKEagle99

        It’s not fictional, he had a note from his Mom and everything!

      • Evan

        Ah. So we used a 1st round pick on a fictional character. I would have gone with Indiana Jones or Darth Vader, but I don’t make the big bucks that these personnel guys make.

  • Dan

    http://pondscumsports.blogspot.com/2013/04/grading-nfl-draft-grades.html

    Hey check out my blog post on the NFL Draft. Not as good as the stuff on this site, of course, but still a good read for fellow Eagle fans.

    • http://www.corcommunity.com/ theycallmerob

      we don’t take kindly to requests of this sort ’round these parts. take your proselytizing elsewhere.

    • cliff henny

      bored, went to laptop with virus, viewed your site…it stinks!

    • Richard Colton

      just awful Dan. nothing about the NFL draft. “you can’t grade a draft right after the draft” – that’s your insight? come on. where have we heard that before? ohh yeah, everywhere.

    • xlGmanlx

      flagged

  • knighn

    In summary: Lane Johnson eats a lot, then he poops out Danny Watkins.

  • Ebrano

    We’ll know early about Lane Johnson when we run behind him on goal-to-go situations. Our red zone percentage was so awful for what feels like forever… how GREAT would it be to see Lane destroying people to the point where the whole stadium knows we are going to run it in, and still the opposing D has no chance to stop it. And if Peters is healthy, we could run it left or right…

  • http://twitter.com/Lez215 Dutch

    The head line was more than a bit unnerving.

    • NickS1

      Not that I’m a fan of Watkins, but he played in the exact same top-tier conference as Johnson, just 3 years ago. Not much changed from the conference of 3 years ago to the conference of today. He must have SOME football IQ. It’s very plausible that he didn’t respond well to Mudd’s style of coaching. Maybe Stoutland can light a fire under his you know what. I hope so. He obviously showed enough on tape to make Andy pick him in the 1st. Yes, I’m aware that’s not the most ringing endorsement, especially here in Philadelphia, but it doesn’t make in an invalid point.

      • http://twitter.com/Lez215 Dutch

        You’d have to review first the tapes of Watkins at Baylor to see how he fared and if he was capable of dominating the upper tier competition in the Conference, and out of Conference opposition. If he was a dominating force it will show clearly his strengths. Watkins played LT at Baylor the two years 90, & 10. He would not be the only disappointment drafted to play on the defensive or on offensive line under the old regime.

        Johnson amassed a superior football IQ from playing QB and as a Tight End. Johnson is a coach’s son. Watkins first started playing football in 2007. Johnson developed a thorough understanding of defenses and understands the varying schemes and thus would be more familiar with how to attack the angles that gives him as a tackle the best options against defenses.

        Watkins to this point with the Eagles isn’t sufficient because he doesn’t give effort or have the physicality to handle the position but it’s clear watching Watkins he isn’t understanding the pre snap disguises and blitzes, thus he’s often out of position and off balance which ends up with Watkins getting beat and his quarterback harassed.

        If he’s shown a problem digesting Mudd’s, theory, he’s likely going to have trouble understanding the responsibilities in a zone blocking scheme, where the O Linemen are tasked with recognizing defensive shifts and a variety of pre snap disguises, blitzes and stunts.

        • NickS1

          Right on

        • Kate Riccardi

          I think Watkins puts out the effort, he just doesn’t play with edge. Lane seems to have that nasty factor.

  • Scott J

    Reid was not able to develop any of his young drafted players. I have higher hopes for Kelly.

  • http://www.philthycanuck.com/ Adam

    Wouldn’t be surprised if he gets cut. Chip has no ties to him, not good enough to start, not versatile enough to be on the bench.

  • xlGmanlx

    I am pulling for the kid, but the igg’s didn’t do him any favors. He didn’t exactly have a lot of experience playing football to begin with. He is asked to switch positions, learn an entirely new blocking scheme and play on the opposite side of the ball. I’m hoping the quality is in the quantity with Chip’s philoshpy on reps reps and more reps. We have heard from former players, that wasn’t the case with Mudd. He wanted to get a good rep and “lock it in” and not do another one. Doesn’t really help some one trying to learn a new position at the NFL level. At this point, Johnson and Watkins have played the same amount of T in college, so I’m hoping Stoud and Kelly can turn him around. If he is able to play guard, he could be versatile in that he has played both tackle and guard Here is to hoping he responds well to the new regime.

  • ben

    Sometimes a writer hs a deadline and writes useless pap, other times a writer may write a worthwhile piece wit some bit of depth. Here, the writer manages to criticize two linemen, neither of whom deserve this kind of treatment.

  • Jeff Asay

    Tackle Eligible play will replace the Shovel Pass inside the 5 yard line.

  • Jenna

    You should get jail time for endangering people’s lives with a vehicle. You should get jail time for doing the same with an excavator.

  • Ogod34wolf

    Why should this surprise you? I reported to my superiors witnessing s street drug exchange between two therapists in a vent unit in a “”zero drug tolerance”” nursing home in PA. OOPS I WAS FIRED not the two therapists who exchanged drugs on the facility premises (one if which who’s husband is a welfare back to work job devolper-/YES FOR THE STATE). They both happened to be “friends of the assistant dept director”. My report to the state was shoved in a filing cabinet and their response. Was ” we don’t investigate such matters”

  • PK

    I’d like to see an in depth article about the person who hired this guy to operate the vehicle…