Lane Johnsons first pre-draft visit was with the Carolina Panthers.
Its unlikely Johnson will be taking any post-draft trips to Charlotte.
Its not that the Panthers dont like the offensive tackle from Oklahoma. But the former high school quarterback doesnt figure to be available when the Panthers pick 14th during Thursdays first round.
The Panthers said as much to Johnson during his visit to Charlotte, which included dinner with offensive line coach John Matsko and an Xs-and-Os session at the dry erase board with offensive coordinator Mike Shula.
They kind of mentioned I may be picked earlier. But you never know, Johnson said during a recent phone interview. Its going to be exciting.
Johnsons athleticism and high ceiling excite a lot of NFL teams.
Johnson, who arrived at Oklahoma as a tight end, is considered the third-best prospect in a tackle group that is one of the gems of the draft. Texas A&Ms Luke Joeckel could be the No. 1 pick of the Kansas City Chiefs, and Central Michigans Eric Fisher is also highly regarded.
But Johnson, a relative newcomer to the position, could have the most upside. Johnsons combine numbers a time of 4.72 seconds in the 40-yard dash, a 34-inch vertical leap and 118-inch broad jump looked more like those of a skill-position player, not a 6-6, 303-pound lineman.
Hes right there with Joeckel and Fisher, ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper said. Its really a three-way battle to see who is going to be the first tackle taken.
Johnson was an honorable mention all-state quarterback in Texas and played the position for a season at Kilgore Junior College before moving to tight end. Oklahoma made Johnson a tackle before his junior year, a move he did not initially support.
I wanted to play tight end. Going to tackle, I was kind of hesitant at first and then after a few weeks I was acceptable to it and gave it a shot, he said. Its not necessarily a glory position, but its very important. And Im very thankful. It gave me a chance to play at the next level.
Johnson started 23 games at tackle for the Sooners, including 11 last season on the left side. He was still considered a raw prospect when he showed up for Senior Bowl practices in January.
But a strong showing in Mobile, coupled with his combine performance, sent Johnson soaring up draft boards.
While Kiper said Johnson still needs to improve his technique and lower-body strength, he should be a top-10 pick on Thursday.
I think certainly his Senior Bowl week really helped him, Kiper said. He can play left tackle or right tackle. Lane Johnson is solidly one of the top 11 players in the draft. I think he goes in the top seven right now.
That would make Johnson unavailable to the Panthers, who might be looking for a successor to veteran left tackle Jordan Gross. Whatever team drafts Johnson will have a good candidate for a trick play or two.
Johnson was asked whether Shula asked him to draw up a tackle-eligible play at the board.
No, they never did any of that, he said, laughing. But Im sure theyll think of something if I wind up there.
OFFENSIVE LINEMAN IN NFL DRAFT
Panthers perspective: Carolina took guard Amini Silatolu in the second round last year. So they probably would not invest a high pick in that position this year unless they become smitten with Cooper or Warmack. If Johnson were to drop to 14, look for the Panthers to jump on him and groom him to become Gross replacement.
Local connections: Cooper, who grew up in Wilmington, was a consensus All-American and winner of the ACCs Jacobs Blocking Trophy as a senior at UNC. Tar Heels tackle Brennan Williams had shoulder surgery in October, but participated in UNCs pro day last month. Williams is considered a mid-round prospect.
Sleeper: Arkansas-Pine Bluff tackle Terron Armstead played well in the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl. The 6-5, 306-pounder wowed scouts at the combine by running the 40 in 4.71 seconds, the fastest time by a lineman since at least 2006.
Worth noting: Cooper and Warmack are vying to become the first guards drafted in the top 10 since New Orleans took Chris Naeole 10th in 1997. Oregon tackle Kyle Long, who played baseball for a year at Florida State, is the son of Hall-of-Famer Howie Long and brother of Pro Bowl defensive end Chris Long. Williams father, Brent, played 11 NFL seasons as a defensive end.
Top offensive lineman in the NFL draft
The Observers top 10 offensive lineman available in the 2013 NFL Draft
|1.||Luke Joeckel||T||Texas A&M||6-6||306||1||Could be first player drafted after blocking for a pocket passer in Ryan Tannehill and a mobile QB in Johnny Manziel.|
|2.||Lane Johnson||T||Oklahoma||6-6||303||1||Former high school QB has wowed scouts with his athleticism and high ceiling.|
|3.||Eric Fisher||T||Central Michigan||6-7||306||1||Turned heads at the Senior Bowl after playing against lesser talent in Mid-American Conference.|
|4.||Jonathan Cooper||G||North Carolina||6-2||311||1||Improved his draft prospects after moving from center to guard.|
|5.||Chance Warmack||G||Alabama||6-2||317||1||Wont win any bodybuilding contests-- but knows how to move defensive tackles off the line of scrimmage.|
|6.||D.J. Fluker||T||Alabama||6-5||339||1||Latest Alabama tackle to go in the first round after strong career in Nick Sabans power running game.|
|7.||Menelik Watson||T||Florida State||6-5||310||1-2||England native grew up playing basketball; could go at the end of the first round.|
|8.||Larry Warford||G||Kentucky||6-3||332||2||Will have to be careful he doesnt eat himself out of a position in the NFL.|
|9.||Travis Frederick||C||Wisconsin||6-4||312||2||High football IQ and can play both guard and center.|
|10.||Justin Pugh||T||Syracuse||6-4||307||2||Smart and experienced blocker who could move to guard because of his short arms.|
TV: ESPN, NFL Network
Thursday, 8 p.m.: Round 1
Friday, 6:30 p.m.: Rounds 2-3
Saturday, April 27, Noon: Rounds 4-7
Panthers' draft picks: Round 1: 14, Round 2: 12, Round 4: 11, Round 5: 15, Round 6: 14
NFL Draft Chat
Have questions about the Carolina Panthers and the NFL draft? Join us for two live chats with Panthers reporter Joseph Person, Monday and Thursday, from noon to 1 p.m. He'll take your questions about the Panthers, the NFL draft and more. Watch for the link at www.charlotteobserver.com.
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