Former Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson came into the combine as a fringe first-rounder and walked out a mortal lock.
The converted tight end showed up in fine form and proved that his speed and athleticism did not subside after switching over to the O-line. Johnson ran a 4.72-second 40-yard dash time, second-best among all offensive linemen, and put up 28 reps during the bench press. He also finished as a top performer in the remaining feats of athleticism, most notably recording an impressive 34-inch vertical leap.
As to be expected, Johnson's performance sent his stock skyrocketing. After beginning the draft process as a player whose stock varied wildly based on who you talked to, it seems like Johnson has immersed himself into the conversation with other top linemen.
The question remains, though, just how much did the former Sooner improve his stock? With that in mind, here is a complete breakdown of the likeliest landing spots for Johnson following his ascendant weekend in Indianapolis.
San Diego Chargers (Pick No. 11)
There are no guarantees at this point in the draft process, but it's hard to see the Chargers taking any position other than offensive tackle at No. 11. They have been among the NFL's most deficient teams at the spot the past two years, and it's come at the expense of quarterback Philip Rivers.
Once viewed in the "elite" stratosphere, Rivers' performance took a long walk off a short cliff in both 2011 and 2012. While one could point to his drop in interceptions as a positive sign, Rivers' metric performance cratered last season. His QBR of 40.6 ranked 31st among the 36 qualifying quarterbacks, and he ranked 22nd in Football Outsiders' DYAR metric.
While that's partially the fault of a regressing group of skill position players around him, Rivers' struggles begin with his complete lack of time in the pocket. According to Pro Football Focus' measurements, only Michael Vick and Russell Wilson were pressured on more pass attempts than Rivers.
Keep in mind their vast stylistic differences. Vick and Wilson are mobile quarterbacks. Rivers is a human totem pole. The Chargers' struggles on the offensive line essentially made him a raw t-bone stack waiting to be gnawed on by a pack of malnourished pit bulls.
After rolling the dice with Marcus McNeill and Jared Gaither the past two seasons at left tackle, San Diego cannot continue repeating its mistakes. The team will take its left tackle of the future in this spot. The only question is which one—and that depends who is on the board come pick No. 11.
If Central Michigan's Eric Fisher is on the board, the Chargers aren't going to pass. He's a more polished player at this point and put together a pretty solid combine performance in his own right.
But if Fisher (and, of course, we're assuming Luke Joeckel is way gone) is off the board, Johnson could become a pick here due to necessity.
St. Louis Rams (Pick No. 16)
Here is where the versatility of Johnson could pay huge dividends. After the Chargers' pick, most of the next few teams seem unlikely to take at an offensive tackle in the first round. It's not that there isn't a need, but there are other, more glaring areas that need tending first.
If San Diego passes, Johnson's short fall would wind up with a trip to see the Gateway Arch. The Rams are pretty happy with Rodger Saffold's development at the left tackle spot, so that's not much of a need on paper.
But Johnson played his entire junior campaign at the right tackle spot before switching over to the left side last season. His ability to make that switch could allow the Rams to fill a massive need, where Barry Richardson was his below-average self last season. Sam Bradford was among the 10 most pressured quarterbacks in 2012 despite a check down-heavy system, and the Rams' downfield attack (obviously) would benefit from their signal-caller getting more time.
Again, availability questions arise here big time. In particular, if Cordarrelle Patterson or Chance Warmack is on the board at No. 16, Rams management will delete Johnson's number out of their cell phones.
Patterson is a dream scenario. The consensus No. 1 wide receiver in this class, Patterson would be the type of playmaker Sam Bradford has lacked since entering the NFL. In fact, it wouldn't shock me in the slightest to see the Rams package their two first-round picks and trade up for Patterson.
Similarly, Warmack is just too good of a value. He plays a non-premium position (guard) and only represents a semi-need for St. Louis, but there are many who have him as the best overall prospect in this entire draft. For him to fall past the middle of the first round just seems like an impossibility despite the middling combine performance.
If the board is devoid of Patterson or Warmack come No. 16, the Rams won't be in the least bit disappointed to land Johnson. The jury is still out on whether Bradford can be a franchise-type quarterback. If he can't make the leap with two very good tackles protecting him, the Rams will be given that answer awfully quick.
Chicago Bears (Pick No. 20)
There won't be much thinking for the Bears if Johnson is available at No. 20. Well, at least there shouldn't be.
From almost the very moment he first donned a Bears uniform, Jay Cutler has been under a constant barrage of pressure. Here is a look at where Cutler has ranked among quarterbacks in pressure percentage in each of the past three seasons, according to Pro Football Focus:
|Year||Pressure Percentage||NFL Rank|
Now keep in mind that Cutler isn't a guy who holds onto the ball an overlong period of time. He was among the least-pressured quarterbacks in the league in Denver and has more than enough arm strength to fit passes into unplanned, small windows.
Best fit for Lane Johnson?
Cutler's pressure in the pocket has come from the coaching staff's unwillingness to make any innovative changes offensively. That's changed with the firing of Lovie Smith and hiring of Marc Trestman.
The other thing that desperately needs changing is the offensive line. J'Marcus Webb would probably be no worse than replacement-level at the right tackle spot. He's a solid run-blocker and can keep up with the slower edge rushers on the front side. But the Bears' blocking scheme would be more effective if they put a craft service table on the left side rather than keeping Webb at that spot.
This is the very definition of a no-brainer. If Johnson's on the board at No. 20, Chicago will be thrilled to welcome him to the Windy City. If not, Johnson won't be too disappointed because that would mean his bank account would be sitting on a couple extra million dollars.