Throughout the draft process, the Eagles insisted that there were four premier players at the top of their draft board. So regardless of how the first three picks played out Thursday night, there was comfort in the Eagles draft room with the knowledge that one of those four players would be coming to Philadelphia. In the end, the Eagles selected Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson, the third tackle taken among the first four picks but, perhaps, the best fit for Kelly.
Johnson, 6-6, 303, is an athletic marvel for an offensive lineman. A former junior college quarterback, Johnson arrived at Oklahoma as a tight end. In the spring of his junior season, Johnson was moved to the offensive line and the results were impressive and immediate. He earned the starting right tackle job, where he spent the entire year, before sliding over to start at left tackle as a senior. Then, in the pre-draft process, Johnson impressed at the Senior Bowl before putting up stunning numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine including top marks among all offensive linemen in the broad jump and top-two marks in the 40-yard dash and the vertical jump.
With those physical tools, Johnson presents what Kelly and the Eagles believe is the upside to be a true difference maker along the offensive line.
"I think we look at raw as a positive, not a negative, because if [Johnson] is doing what he is doing right now and he's only played really two years on the offensive line and just transitioned from spring ball, we felt like his ceiling is the highest and that's the intriguing thing," Kelly said. "He was probably getting a little less snaps than Eric Fisher, but when you look at his combination of athleticism and what he can do and his toughness. Is he raw? Yeah. He's a quick learner, he's a really smart kid, he's already graduated. I think he'll pick up what we're doing quickly. When you listen to people that coached him, they just rave about him. He's an unbelievable competitor. He's everything you're looking for when it comes to a football player."
Kelly said in his press conference that the top four players on the Eagles' draft board were the same as the first four picks of Thursday night's draft: Fisher, the Central Michigan tackle, fellow tackle Luke Joeckel and, following a surprise trade-up by the Miami Dolphins, Oregon linebacker Dion Jordan. Though some believed the Eagles were interested in moving down a few spots from the fourth pick, Kelly said the choice was easy. In fact, they didn't field any calls once they were on the clock at No. 4.
"Honestly, we had them all together," Kelly said of the top four. "We don't have the first three picks, so it was going to happen the way it was going to fall. We weren't going to trade. We didn't think there was anything and there was no reason to trade up. We thought there was a group of four that we really, really liked and we were going to see how the draft was going to unfold. It wasn't a situation where we had this guy over this guy."
So how does Johnson fit in? After a year filled with injury and turmoil along the offensive line in 2012, the Eagles have serious depth at the position all of a sudden. Johnson may profile as a left tackle athletically, but he's played right tackle in the past. Johnson, paired with a healthy Jason Peters, 31, sure sounds like an impressive, and impressively athletic, pair of bookend tackles. That could allow Todd Herremans to slide inside to guard, where he's excelled for the Eagles in the past, alongside Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis.
But Kelly isn't ready to talk about the depth chart or where Johnson will line up. The time will come for that and those decisions will be made on the field.
"I don't know depth charts or any of those other things," said Kelly. "Let's get Lane in here and let him actually take a few reps and run around a little bit. We do know that Todd has some flexibility and that's the great thing about him, because Todd has played inside and outside. I think the other thing with Lane that is great about his flexibility is he has played the right side and he's played the left side. We're going to let them all battle it out. They're going to win the jobs out on the field, but having some more versatility makes a more versatile football team. Having him and having Todd, we obviously look at that as a positive."
"We don't set the depth chart, [the players] do. We don't run a dictatorship, we don't run a democracy, we run a meritocracy. If you merit playing time, then show us in practice that you merit it, show us in preseason games that you merit it, and we'll put you on the field. He'll get the opportunity. He's going to get a ton of reps and he's going to get an opportunity to show us what he can do, but just like everybody else we're dealing with right now, they're going to merit it. I tell those guys that all the time. 'You guys set the depth chart, we don't set it. And you set it by your performance. Not because of what we think you can do, but based on your demonstration that you show us on the practice field and in the preseason games.'"
Now, the Eagles regroup and prepare for day two of the draft in which they're armed with the 35th overall pick, the third of the second round. That profiles as a plum position for the team, especially following the results of the first round. Though they will focus on the best player available, it's safe to assume that the Eagles weren't necessarily narrowing in on another offensive lineman at No. 35. Well, following the selection of Johnson, six more offensive linemen were selected in round one which, in theory, should have pushed some talented players further than the Eagles may have expected.
"Our board is set," said Kelly. "So it's just kind of where it is. As guys get taken off and as you look at it and other teams pick them, then you just kind of take them off where you are. When your pick comes around and what's on the board for you at that point in time, I know we're not going to reach and we're not going to put ourselves in a situation where we need this. I think we did a great job – [general manager] Howie [Roseman] and those guys did a great job in free agency of putting us in a position where we didn't have any holes. Where we don't have this position and regardless of what the board says, we need to go take this position. I think we're in a situation now where we're going to take, based upon what our board is when we get to the second pick, we look at it who's our highest-rated player when we get to that point in time. It could be an offensive player, it could be a defensive player. It's not that, 'Hey, we took a tackle and won, so now we have to go this way.' It's whatever is on the board at this point in time."
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