PHILADELPHIA - University of Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson will go down in Eagles' history as coach Chip Kelly's first-ever draft pick.
Kelly and Eagles general manager Howie Roseman selected the 6-foot-6, 303-pounder with the fourth overall pick in Thursday's first round of the NFL draft.
"We're really excited," Kelly said Thursday night at the NovaCare Complex. "Football is all about winning the game up front and we feel like Lane can help us do that."
Kelly indicated that Johnson was among four players the Eagles had targeted as potential first-round picks before the draft, along with Central Michigan tackle Eric Fisher, Texas A&M tackle Luke Joeckel and Oregon outside linebacker Dion Jordan.
Former Eagles coach Andy Reid grabbed Fisher for Kansas City with the first pick, then Jacksonville drafted Joeckel.
After Miami traded with Oakland for the right to draft Jordan - Kelly's former player at Oregon - the Eagles didn't hesitate to make Johnson the first player drafted by the franchise in the top five since Reid took quarterback Donovan McNabb at No. 2 in 1999.
The Eagles took Johnson ahead of other candidates such as Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, defensive ends Shariff Floyd (Florida) and Ezekiel Ansah (Brigham Young) and Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner.
"We had four guys at the top," Kelly said. "The three offensive tackles and Dion. No matter how it fell, we were confident we were going to get our guy."
Few players rose as high on draft boards over the last month as Johnson, who began his college career as a quarterback at Kilgore College in Texas in 2008 after going unrecruited out of Groveton (Texas) High School.
Upon transferring to Oklahoma, Johnson played tight end in the beginning of the 2010 season, then was switched to defensive end at midseason.
Injuries to the offensive line prompted Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops to move Johnson to right tackle in 2011 and then left tackle last season.
"Moving from quarterback to tight end was probably the toughest transition for me because quarterback is such a glorified position," Johnson said Thursday in a phone interview from NFL draft headquarters in New York. "Playing tackle was hard at first because I had been a skill position player my whole life, but I just kept working hard to improve."
Hard work in the weight room and on the field helped turn Johnson into one of the nation's premier offensive linemen.
In the span of four years at Oklahoma, he went from a 240-pound tight end to a 268-pound defensive end to a 300-pound offensive lineman who was a key blocker for Sooners quarterback Landry Jones.
"We loved him as a defensive end, but at 270 pounds, we could feel like he could weigh more," Stoops said Thursday night in a phone interview from Oklahoma. "I remember asking one of our coaches how long it would take him to get to 300 and he said, 'a couple of weeks and a cheeseburger.'
"He was a tough defensive end, but after two practices at tackle, we knew he was going to be incredible. We're not surprised at all that (the Eagles drafted him so high) because we all knew how good he is. We knew as soon as teams tested him, they were going to be shocked at his upside and he's only going to get better with more experience."
Johnson is expected to slide into the Eagles' starting lineup at right tackle while Todd Herremans will move inside to right guard in place of struggling Danny Watkins, the Eagles' 2011 first-round draft pick. They will join with left tackle Jason Peters, left guard Evan Mathis and center Jason Kelce.
Herremans (torn foot tendon), Peters (ruptured Achilles' tendon) and Kelce (torn anterior cruciate ligament) missed most or all of last season with injuries.
"Lane is ready to play right now, but he's raw," Kelly said. "But if he's able to do what he's done as an offensive lineman already, then his ceiling is probably the highest (of the top draft prospects). Just like the other guys, he'll determine when he gets on the field for us. But he's a tough, smart kid who loves to play football and that's what we're looking for in an offensive lineman."
One of Johnson's toughest jobs will be picking a uniform number.
He wore No. 69 for the Sooners, but that jersey currently belongs to Mathis, who quickly informed Johnson via Twitter Thursday that he has no plans on switching. Mathis' Twitter handle is @EvanMathis69. Johnson's is @Lanejohnson69.
"He's been there longer than me," Johnson said with a laugh. "Just reading about Mathis, he's kind of a freaky dude himself, as far as athlete-wise. I'm aggressive on the field, but I'm down to earth and not arrogant at all off the field. I feel like I'm ready to start right away, but I'll be fine with whatever number I get."
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