Over the next three weeks leading up to training camp, we’ll be counting down the top 20 most important Eagles for the 2021 season.
4. Lane Johnson
Last last November, when Lane Johnson finally shut down his 2020 season, he uttered some words about his injured ankle that probably made you open your eyes a little wider and tilt your ear toward your speaker.
“It’s like the inside of my ankle has collapsed so a lot of my power and push-off that I normally have isn’t there,” Johnson said.
It’s like the inside of my ankle has collapsed.
That’s enough to make you gulp, huh? After Johnson was shut down last year, he had surgery to repair the deltoid ligament in his left ankle, the same left ankle he initially hurt back in 2018, the same left ankle that has seen several high ankle sprains and a tightrope surgery before the 2020 season.
So this is an injury that dates back three years and now Johnson is 31 years old and still trying to get over it. For what it’s worth, Johnson and the Eagles seem confident he’ll be able to. It’s vitally important that he does. Because even when Johnson isn’t at 100 percent, he’s still one of the best right tackles in the NFL. When he’s completely healthy, there’s no one better.
And it’s hard to find many Eagles who are more vital to the team’s success than Johnson.
Here’s what Johnson said about his ankle in May:
“It was just kind of one thing that lingered and I never got it fixed. I thought it would heal. Got it fixed. I got cleared a couple weeks ago, so I’m just now where I’m not really thinking about it anymore. I’m starting to play and that’s really all you can do. I’m just really ready to go to training camp, get through that and get ready for the games. Keep stacking games and stacking days.”
In the last three years, Johnson has missed 14 games because of that left ankle but when he’s been on the field, he’s been great. Even last year as he battled through the injury, Johnson struggled some but still gave up just one sack and five pressures in 239 pass blocking snaps.
Johnson was PFF’s 37th-ranked offensive tackle in 2020 but in 2019, he was ranked as the second-best overall tackle in the NFL. And while the left tackle has historically been the premier spot, Johnson has helped crush the stigma of playing right tackle, consistently shutting down top pass rushers in the league, who used to feast on right tackles.
In his dominant moments, Johnson has shut down some of the most feared pass rushers ever. In 2021, the Eagles will see Chase Young, Joey Bosa, Nick Bosa, DeMarcus Lawrence, Shaquil Barrett, Von Miller, Montez Sweat, Bradley Chubb and more. In fact, on PFF’s list of the top 32 edge rushers in the NFL, the Eagles will see 16 of them. Many will be in 1-on-1 battles with Johnson on the right side of the Eagles’ line.
The Eagles’ offensive line should be very good this season but it’s not without questions. Who will win the left tackle job between Jordan Mailata and Andre Dillard? Will Jason Kelce keep playing at a high level? Can Brandon Brooks return to his pre-Achilles-tear level of play?
And after dealing with the same injured ankle for three seasons, you can argue that the questions around Johnson are the most troublesome, especially because he’s the only player on the roster signed through the 2025 season.
And Johnson and Brooks, who man the right side of the line are both over 30 now and coming off significant injuries. Brooks was 10th on this list, by the way. So the Eagles will need both of these guys to stay healthy.
“Yeah, it’s just more inability to stay healthy that’s more frustrating,” Johnson said last November. “You get paid a contract to play like one of the best tackles in the league. You go out there and you can’t finish games and you’re not out there. As far as being a setback, that’s what it is. It is what it is. People deal with injuries. It’s just a matter of recovering for this and coming back fully healthy, play a season, don’t worry about it and get back to functioning normally.”
The Eagles are banking on it.
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