PHILADELPHIA — Chip Kelly took size over glamour.
The Philadelphia Eagles selected Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson with the No. 4 overall pick in Kelly’s first NFL draft Thursday night. The 6-foot-6, 303-pound Johnson was the third tackle drafted among the first four picks. Johnson was a quarterback in high school and went to Oklahoma as a tight end.
Kelly called him awesome.
“We felt he was the most athletic tackle we’ve seen,” Kelly said. “He has a huge upside, a very big ceiling.”
Many draft prognosticators had the Eagles taking West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, but Kelly gave an indication he wasn’t leaning in that direction last week when he said there were no “can’t-miss” players available.
Smith, however, fell out of the first round and could be available for the Eagles with the second pick in the second round on Friday night. Jacksonville picks before them. For now, Michael Vick and Nick Foles are competing for the starting job.
Johnson gives the Eagles a cornerstone anchor on a line that was decimated by injuries last season. Four of the five starters went down as the Eagles finished 4-12 and coach Andy Reid was fired after 14 seasons.
Johnson could start at either left tackle or right tackle. Five-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters missed last year after tearing an Achilles tendon. Right tackle Todd Herremans went down in November with foot and ankle injuries. Herremans is a former starter at guard, so he can move inside to accommodate Johnson.
“He’s versatile,” Kelly said. “I think he’s ready, but he’s raw.”
Kelly, though, wouldn’t anoint him a starter just yet.
“We don’t run a dictatorship, we don’t run a democracy, we run a meritocracy,” Kelly said. “If you merit playing time, then show us in practice that you merit it, show us in the preseason game that you merit it and we’ll put you on the field.”
Johnson switched to defensive end at Oklahoma in 2010 and then moved to the offensive line because of injuries. He started at right tackle in 2011 and left tackle last year.
“Going to tackle was a weird experience because I had been a skill-position player my whole life,” Johnson said. “Going into my senior year, I knew I had the talent and I just kept working and developing and things went well for me.”
Kelly said he spoke several times with Sooners coach Bob Stoops, who raved about Johnson.
“He has an unbelievable work ethic,” Kelly said. “He lives and dies football. He loves playing football. He’s a real selfless guy who loves to play the game and doesn’t care where he plays.”
Johnson wasn’t recruited out of Groverton High School in Texas. Instead, he went to Kilgore College and appeared in nine games as a reserve quarterback in 2008.He transferred to Oklahoma in 2009 and spent a redshirt season as the scout team tight end.
“When we recruited him, we did so just on what a big athlete he was, not having an idea where he’d end up growing,” Stoops said. “Lane worked relentlessly from the moment he stepped on campus and took advantage of every avenue to improve during his time with us. While it took a while to find the right position for him to maximize his athletic potential, I have no doubt that he has a huge upside and will only get better with more experience playing tackle.”
Johnson seems like an ideal fit for Kelly’s up-tempo offense, which produced plenty of points and lots of plays at Oregon.
“We need athletic linemen,” Kelly said. “It doesn’t matter when we’re snapping the ball or whether we’re in a no-huddle or huddle.”
Johnson is known for having a nasty edge on the field, which would make him a fan favorite in gritty Philadelphia.
“I view myself as kind of an aggressive player on the field, but off the field I’m a down-to-earth guy, not arrogant at all,” Johnson said. “I know Philly is a good blue-collar town that works its tail off and they’re very passionate about their sports, especially football.”
Kelly, who grew up in New England, wore a polo with a “Boston Police” patch on it in his first appearance since the Boston Marathon bombings.