Lane Johnson Not Worth Cost of Trading Inside Top 10 for Ravens
Though Baltimore was able to retain Joe Flacco, the Ravens' roster has undergone a massive overhaul that's nearly unprecedented among recent Super Bowl winners.
Gone are stalwarts Ed Reed, Ray Lewis and Anquan Boldin, a trio of emotional leaders that rank among the best in the NFL. And also gone are promising linebackers Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe, who cashed in on their playoff stardom with new teams.
With the NFL draft in the offing, general manager Ozzie Newsome will go about replacing those Lombardi Trophy earners this week. The Ravens, with 12 picks in the draft, should be able to at least add some depth to their roster and nab a couple of starters along the way considering Newsome's strong draft history.
But according to recent reports, Newsome's first course of action may be to replace a starter whose return has not yet been ruled out. According to Mike Preston of the Baltimore Sun, the Ravens are monitoring the status of Oklahoma left tackle Lane Johnson, a top-10 lock who would replace Bryant McKinnie in Baltimore.
Preston reports Newsome is willing to trade up for Johnson at a "reasonable cost."
Barring something unforeseen happening on Thursday night, it's hard to see anything "reasonable" about the king's ransom the Ravens would have to pay for Johnson.
Thanks to the NFL draft value chart, which is used by NFL general managers and coaches to make trades, we can get a very clear idea of what Baltimore needs to offer for the seventh pick. The No. 7 pick is worth 1,500 points on the draft scale and the No. 32 pick is worth 590, meaning the Ravens have 910 points of ground to make up.
While here is where one could point out the Ravens have 12 picks in this year's draft, only three of those selections come in the first three rounds. Their earliest "extra" pick this season is at No. 129, worth a piddly 43 points on the draft chart.
Would trading for Lane Johnson's rights be worth it for the Ravens?
In fact, if Baltimore gave up each of its first three picks in 2013 and its first-rounder next season (assuming the same approximate value), only then would it be able to have a package "worth" the No. 7 pick.
Teams aren't necessarily married to the chart, and the Ravens could certainly break those selections into more manageable increments.
But you get the point. Baltimore would have to pay an astronomical sum—a Robert Griffin III-level sum almost—to land Lane Johnson on Thursday. And that's before we even answer the question as to whether Johnson is even worth a top-10 pick—let alone what he would cost the Ravens.
A quarterback in high school before turning to tight end and defensive end before moving on the O-Line, Johnson has exactly two seasons of experience as a tackle—and only one as a left tackle.
As Grantland's Bill Barnwell noted earlier this week, scouting for the NFL draft is already hard enough. Teams have a very limited number of games with usable film for four-year starters, let alone someone with Johnson's resume. Scouts can't look at Johnson mauling Florida A&M and project how he's going to play on Sundays—they might as well be watching his high school film.
And lest we forget what the Big 12 has become, Baylor, Texas Tech, West Virginia and Kansas all gave up more than 400 points last season. Bastions of NFL-level pass-rushing ability they were not. (You could even throw in Texas as another bad defensive squad on Oklahoma's schedule last season.)
The result of the Big 12's complete lack of defensive competency is that we have very little usable tape on Johnson. You can look at somewhere between 10 and 15 games, depending on how kind you're being—half of that at the less-premium right tackle position.
In those games where Johnson faced off against top pass-rushers, he performed well; just not top-10 pick well.
In the Cotton Bowl, facing off against an SEC-level (a.k.a. NFL lite) pass rush, the Sooners noticeably struggled to protect Landry Jones. The Oklahoma signal-caller checked down so often he made Brady Quinn look like Andrew Luck, thanks mostly to the fact Damontre Moore and the Texas A&M defense made his life a nightmare.
That game was largely seen as an indicator of Jones' lack of NFL readiness, but the same could be said for Johnson now that he's top-10 eye candy.
That's not to say Johnson is a bust or anything of the sort. He's a young man who showed a willingness to do almost anything Bob Stoops asked at Oklahoma, the type of team-first mentality that makes NFL coaches salivate. He thinks he's the most athletic tackle in this draft, mainly because he is.
And his potential. Oh my, Johnson's potential. Someone with his size, strength and athleticism could wind up with a bust in Canton someday, or at the very least in plenty of Pro Bowls.
Or he may flame out as the latest Underwear Olympian who fooled everyone into thinking he's a football player and we'll all wonder in three years what the hell we were thinking. Bleacher Report NFL draft lead writer Matt Miller acknowledged a "very good" chance Johnson gets over-drafted earlier this week:
Very good chance of that. RT @avisoep: Lane Johnson will be overdrafted too— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 23, 2013
Though it comes with a negative connotation, over-drafting isn't always a bad thing. If you want a guy that's reasonably within his range—say 10 picks or so—then it's not a ghastly decision to just pull the trigger. There's no guarantee that the desired player would be there after trading back. Grabbing your guy is almost always the right call—unless your guy is Ted Ginn, in which case...no.
So the notion that the Cardinals, reportedly "high" on Johnson, would take him at No. 7 isn't absurd. They desperately need a tackle to protect Carson Palmer, who moves about as briskly as a Lego Man nowadays. Taking a risk on Johnson is almost advisable for Arizona, especially considering its motives seem to be "compete now."
That's not the question facing the Ravens. They're not currently selecting inside the first 10 picks. Taking Johnson at No. 7 or wherever would not be an over-draft for them; it would be a draft mortgage. Johnson would be Ricky Williams in the wedding dress and John Harbaugh would be Mike Ditka in a tux.
And that, along with the questions facing Johnson as a player, is why there is little if any chance Johnson winds up a Raven. The cost is far too great, and guys like Florida State's Menelik Watson and Oregon's Kyle Long are both intriguing secondary options.
If Johnson somehow slides to the middle of Round 1, though? All bets are off.
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