In 2012, the Lions opened the season with the 2nd oldest starting offensive line in the NFL. Despite that, the Lions OL has stayed remarkably healthy. For two straight years, all five of their aging starters logged at least 1000 snaps, which is remarkable, and perhaps a little lucky.
In March, the Lions lost both of their starting offensive tackles. LT Jeff Backus retired and RT Gosder Cherilus signed with the Colts as a free agent. Riley Reiff was drafted in the first round last year (23rd overall), and if the season began today, he would likely be the starting LT. In that scenario, there would be a gaping hole at RT.
At pick #5, a premium position like OT just makes a lot more sense to me than other perceived “team needs” such as CB, especially in a draft which is thought to be very deep at CB. Johnson played RT at Oklahoma in 2011, then moved to LT in 2012, so the Lions could fit him in wherever they need him in the short term, with the idea to make him the long-term answer at LT.
A few weeks ago, Adam Caplan of Sirius/XM noted that “in his 12 years of going to Senior Bowl practices, he couldn’t recall a more dominant performance from a LT than Lane Johnson’s.”
Johnson stood out to me as well, as he made my list of 10 players that impressed me at the Senior Bowl. More importantly, Johnson played for the South Team at the Senior Bowl, which was coached by the Lions’ staff.
But that was only the beginning of Johnson’s extraordinarily impressive pre-draft process. At the NFL Combine, Johnson shined. The following is a chart of how Johnson performed at the 2013 Combine, and how he compared with all other offensive tackles that participated in various drills at the Combine since 2003:
And here’s a fancier chart on how Johnson compared to just the 2013 class of OTs, via mockdraftable.com:
Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher are thought to be more polished linemen currently than Johnson, who was actually a QB in high school and Junior College, although a lot of people feel that Johnson may have the most upside and could ultimately turn out to be the best of the three.
And yes, that would be 3 offensive tackles in the first 5 picks.