Draft analysts weigh in on ISU prospects Osemele, Johnson

Dan Tracy

With ISU football’s pro day scheduled to take place tomorrow, the Daily asked three NFL Draft analysts to give their take on former ISU offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele and defensive back Leonard Johnson who are both projected to be selected in the NFL Draft which begins on April 26.

Wes Bunting has been covering the NFL Draft since 2002 and is currently the National Football Post’s director of college scouting. His NFL draft coverage can be found at www.nationalfootballpost.com.

James Christensen, who was in Ames for both the Iowa State-Iowa and Iowa State-Oklahoma State games last fall, is the lead writer, scout and owner of www.nepatriotsdraft.com.

Shawn Zobel is the founder of the NFL Draft projection site www.draftheadquarters.com. Zobel publishes an annual draft preview publication with more than 250 player previews.

1. Osemele set personal records in every on-field test at February’s NFL scouting combine, how much did he help his draft stock in Indianapolis?

Bunting: “I think this is a guy that made some nice strides from a technical standpoint I think he did a much better job bending at the knees, keeping his hips under and keeping his base under him. He doesn’t have great range. I think he’s more of a right tackle or guard only so I don’t think he’s ever going to play on the left side. As a whole he’s got some natural athleticism and then once he gets his paws on you, the battle is over. I just worry about him a bit in space when he has to slide laterally but when you can put him on the strong side, the tight end can protect him or you can kick him inside, I think he can bend enough and he’s fluid enough to create enough leverage and get after it. Balance is a little bit of a concern but he’s a good-looking athlete with a lot of upside I think his best football is still ahead of him.

Christensen: “I’m not sure Osemele helped his draft stock, but he certainly didn’t hurt it. Running in the 5.3’s with decent explosion numbers was about where we had him pegged. I loved seeing him come in over 6-foot-6 and at 333 pounds.”

Zobel: “I felt that he did everything that he needed to do to solidify himself as a late-first to early-second round pick. I have not heard how he interviewed with teams, which is a big portion of the process, however I was impressed with what I saw on the field.”

2. There’s been a lot of talk about what offensive line position Osemele will end up playing, either inside at guard or outside at tackle. In your opinion is he a guard or a tackle in the NFL?

Bunting: “It depends on the team but at the same time I think a lot of teams they want to have guys play to their strengths which obviously his strength is getting his hands on you and overwhelming you. So he’s a better player in a phone booth than he is in space and that’s why I think more teams will look at him as a right tackle only and or an offensive guard.”

Christensen: “I think Osemele can excel at right tackle or either guard position, but many NFL teams will see his 33-inch arms and project him inside – much like teams are starting to do with Iowa’s Riley Reiff.”

Zobel: “He’s an average right tackle prospect, but inside at guard he has a ton of potential to develop into a top player with the measurables he owns.”

3. What is missing from Osemele’s game that he needs to work on before becoming a NFL offensive lineman?

Bunting: “We’re not looking at him as a left tackle so I’m not going to kill him for his range. I think when you watch his footwork he can bend but he has a tendency to get overextended which causes him to get upright and then he’ll struggle to play as powerful as he can. Also in the run game it seems like he doesn’t do a great job keeping his feet under him, there’s natural power, hands on you he can move you but it’s that initial getting into contact where he tends to get overextended which negates his power a bit. That doesn’t mean that he can’t do it, it just means that right now it’s something that he needs to develop in.”

Christensen: “Osemele has all the tools he just needs to work on keeping his pads down and playing over his feet. He has a tendency to reach, losing his balance and thus, his power.”

Zobel: “Lateral agility and quickness in his range with his kick slide outside at tackle. Learning the nuances of both positions [will be key] as well to bring the versatility needed to the team that drafts him.”

4. Some still have Osemele projected as a late-first round selection, what do you think are the chances he slips into the 1st round? (Iowa State has only had 1 first-round draft pick in program history, RB George Amundson in 1973)

Bunting: “I don’t think he’s a first-rounder to be honest. I think he’s a guy that goes in the second round and starts in the league, there’s no doubt about that. I would say he’s a middle-second round type guy. There’s just too many other good offensive line prospects especially at the guard spot that make a lot more sense than he would.

Christensen: “Osemele is our 27th ranked prospect, so we see him as a late first-round value. I can’t see a guy with his size and athleticism lasting too far into the second round unless there is some hidden medical concern out there.”

Zobel: “He’s going to be a Top 40-50 pick. Some team could fall in love with him and want him at the back portion of the first round, but early-second is the conservative projection.”

5. Leonard Johnson ran an official 4.71-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine. How much will that time—which is slow for a cornerback—hurt his NFL draft stock?

Bunting: “You’ve got to think about this as ‘OK what are his strengths?’ He’s not very big and he’s not very fast. When you add up that combination at any position, that’s not very good. He’s a good football player and he’s another one of those guys that I think falls a lot lower than people think because he didn’t run that fast and he’s playing a stopwatch position. But at the same time, you can play him in a phone booth in tighter areas where he doesn’t have to be exposed in space.”

Christensen: “That time certainly is a concern. On film however, teams will see Johnson sticking to receivers like Iowa’s Marvin McNutt who ran a much better time at the Combine. Johnson plays fast with pads on, which is what really counts.”

Zobel: “It hurts him a lot. He’s going to be limited because of the lack of speed. He projects as a fine nickel or dime back in sub packages, but the slow speed could limit his ceiling at the next level.”

6. A lot of Big 12 wide receivers spoke highly of Johnson in Indianapolis. In your opinion will NFL teams value his film or his measurables more?

Bunting: “I think every team has a minimum standard. There aren’t many teams that have a prerequisite at corner that starts at 4.7 [seconds in the 40-yard dash] which is what he is. So he may have helped himself out at the Combine but he’s not going to be on any of the prerequisites for teams which is going to cause him to fall no matter how great the tape was. It’s great that he did well against good competition but at the same it’s just tough to give a guy a high grade that doesn’t meet those physical and athletic prerequisites of playing in the NFL.”

Christensen: “When we talked to Justin Blackmon after the Cyclones’ upset win last fall, he called Johnson the most physical corner he had faced in 2011. Johnson has the game that can transcend some measurables. Film always trumps workouts.”

Zobel: “I personally do, so I think that some certainly will. For teams looking for a confident, physical cornerback who offers nice versatility, he will be a nice prospect.”

7. With his current size and speed, it will be tough for Johnson to be a starting cornerback right away in the NFL. Where do you see him fitting in on an NFL roster next season?

Bunting: “He’s a heck of a football player, you know what you’re getting. You’re getting a guy that’s a good football player, an overachiever, he’s tough and he’ll play special teams. Do you want this guy lining up on the outside versus [6-foot-5, 235-pound Detroit Lions wide receiver] Calvin Johnson? Absolutely not. But if you can play him in some package roles inside where he’s not responsible for as much space he can be instinctive and he can tackle the football, without a doubt I think he can make a roster and for a while play in the NFL.”

Christensen: “Depending on where he goes and what scheme that team runs, I can see Johnson starting outside or playing as a nickel corner. With as much sub-package defense that gets played in the NFL, a third cornerback is basically a starter.”

Zobel: “The lack of size doesn’t worry me as much as the lack of speed, fluid athleticism to turn and run in transition and quick-twitch agility. He’s not an explosive player, but is physical and can be counted on. He won’t start right away, but has the intangibles and confidence to develop, and if given the chance down the road to compete for a starting job, he’s the type of player who will grab the bull by the horns and run with it.”

8. ESPN’s Todd McShay said that he wouldn’t be surprised if Johnson falls into the second round. Where do you see him coming off the board at?

Bunting: “I’m not going to say he falls to the sixth [round] but I’d be surprised if he went in the third [round] on Friday, that would surprise me. I’d expect him to go in the fourth or fifth round range. The third round is a good scenario for him but I don’t think it’s happening. I’ve been wrong before but I would be surprised if he goes before Saturday. (Rounds one, two and three occur before Saturday.)

Christensen: “Right now, we have Johnson as a late second, early third round pick. With the great depth at cornerback in the draft, there will be some really talented defensive backs taken well into the fourth and fifth rounds. Unlike McShay, I’d be surprised to see Johnson picked before Osemele, mainly because of the position scarcity at the tackle position this year which is much thinner than corner.”

Zobel: “Third to fourth round. His poor 40-time knocked him out of the second round range.”