Before after the injury to sophomore phenom Carson Wentz and during Nick Foles’ ascension to Super Bowl MVP on Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense was very much Texas powered.
Foles, you see, hails from Austin Westlake High School. His running back, Jay Ajayi, spent his Lone Star State football seasons 221 miles north in Frisco. His left tackle, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, graduated 194 miles north in Haltom City.
His right tackle Lane Johnson, graduated 199 miles east in Groveton.
Each journeyed to Philadelphia during a different era but helped the “City of Brotherly Love” win its first franchise title. One of them, though, according to a comprehensive Bleacher Report NFL1000 study of position values, was worth his weight in gold.
Per Over The Cap, a site dedicated to figuring contract numbers for NFL players, Johnson is the only right tackle making over $10 million. Eight left tackles are currently averaging $12 million or more per season.
Value doesn’t always completely equate to importance. In Johnson’s case in 2017, though, the Groveton, Texas native was worth every penny.
“Even when he was in high school, I knew Lane was going to be good,” said Jimmy Evans, Johnson’s stepfather, to KTRE 9 News. “We just had to get to the right school.”
Johnson is the second athlete Groveton to play in the Super Bowl. Rodney Thomas graduated from Groveton in 1991 and played for the Titans in Superbowl XXXIV against the Rams. Johnson was a 1-year old when Thomas was battering opposing defenses. Thomas, however, didn’t live to see his fellow Indian join an exclusive class of former Indian NFL champions.
Thomas died on June 14, 2014, at the age of 41 from coronary atherosclerosis (heart attack), according to Sam Blair, the Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace for Trinity County, Texas. It was one year after Johnson entered the NFL Draft.
The 6-foot-6 and 317-pound Indian carved his own path to the NFL, cutting a swath through Kilgore Junior College as a quarterback and tight end and at the University of Oklahoma as a tight end and defensive end as a sophomore. He didn’t start as a tackle until 2011.
During his junior and senior seasons, he started 12 of 13 games at right tackle and 11 of 13 games at left tackle. He’s spent all five seasons as in Philadelphia and captured his first Pro Bowl selection in 2017.
According to the rankings, Johnson was rated the No. 1 right tackle in terms of pass protection (21/25), run blocking (19/20), agility (18/20) and position value (8/10) and overall grade (84/100) in a pool of 53 players.
The rankings are based on points system that assesses linemen ability to not only block at the point of attack, but also show aggressiveness and proper hand placement throughout plays.
“He effectively short sets firmly to the line of scrimmage, getting his hands on defenders to keep rushers off balance as a change up while consistently showing a strong anchor,” NFL1000 OT Scout Duke Manyweather stated in the report.
Johnson was originally chosen fourth overall in the 2013 NFL Draft behind Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel as an eventual replacement for Jason Peters — from Queen City, Texas — at the left tackle spot. When Peters suffered a torn ACL and MCL in October, the team kept Johnson on the right and began to develop Vaitai on the left.
“Johnson shows the strength, power and explosion at the point of attack to knock defenders off the ball when asked to base-block or angle-drive-block,” Manyweather’s assessment continued. “Johnson shows the ability to generate force from the ground by driving through his in-steps to strike, leverage, drive and finish defenders when moving the point of attack or breaking stalemates.”
The combination of these methods were successful for Johnson, according to information taken from Pro Football Focus and a Jan. 5 Philly Voice Report:
|Player||*Sacks allowed||*Pass blocking snaps|
As a unit, the Eagles’ offensive line allowed 36 sacks in 3,029 pass blocking snaps — or one during every 84th snap. Of those three dozen sacks, Johnson was responsible for one in 591 snaps.
That was against the Broncos’ Von Miller (10 sacks), Chiefs’ Justin Houston (9.5 sacks), Cowboys’ Demarcus Lawrence (14.5 sacks), Raiders’ Khalil Mack (10.5 sacks), and Seahawks’ Michael Bennett (8.5 sacks) in 2017. He also shutout the Giants’ Jason Pierre-Paul (8 sacks) and Redskins’ Ryan Kerrigan (13 sacks) two times each. The 49ers’ Leger Douzable (2 sacks) was responsible for Johnson’s lone statistical blemish. The Eagles were rated the 16th best offensive line after allowing 36 sacks and 107 quarterback hits.
The Los Angeles Chargers, New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders were No. 1 through No. 5 with a combined average of 22 sacks allowed.
Johnson’s effect was felt most in the running game, where Philadelphia prospered. Behind his hulking bulk, the Eagles had 19 runs of 10 or more yards, 77 first downs when running right, and 67 power runs. Those totals were higher than either of the other two directions.
Johnson’s No. 1 ranking in the NFL1000, Super Bowl title, Pro Bowl selection, and aggregated statistics not only help soften the blow of a 6-year, $63 million ($35 million guaranteed) extension signed January 29, 2016, it made him one of the best linemen in Texas football history.
Marcus Matthews-Marion is the managing editor of TexasHSFootball, covering prep football throughout the Lone Star State and collegiate and professional football throughout the country. Follow him on Twitter, @TheMJMatthews, and read more of his content here.
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