NFL’s top overall pick? TCU’s Lucas Niang determined to prove he’s worthy

TCU’s Lucas Niang returned to school for his senior season because NFL evaluators didn’t view him as a first-round pick last spring.

That didn’t sit well with him and he’s now on a clear mission. It’s not just to prove he’s among the top offensive tackles in the country, either.

“Man, I’ve got to prove that I’m the best,” Niang said at Big 12 Media Days earlier this week. “I look at myself as the No. 1 overall pick and I guess I haven’t shown the world that. My pass-blocking is fine. I need to definitely dominant in the run, maybe incorporate some NFL technique in my game.

“I want to show that I can do whatever is needed of me, whatever is asked. A lot of people ask me, ‘Can I play left tackle?’ I played left tackle my whole life until college, so that’s a dumb question.”

The plan for next season, though, calls for Niang to remain at right tackle. He’s taken a few practice reps at left tackle, but that’s just as an insurance policy should the Frogs need to move him to that spot.

But there’s no question the 6-foot-6, 328-pound Niang is going into his senior season with plenty of confidence, and rightfully so. This is a guy who didn’t allow a sack last season and ranked as the highest-graded pass blocker in the Big 12 (minimum 300 snaps) by Pro Football Focus.

That came on the heels of a successful sophomore season that saw Niang become the starting right tackle the final eight games of the 2017 season, and a true freshman season where he played in 12 of 13 games in 2016.

Niang feels he’ll take another step as a senior.

“I’m definitely not where I want to be,” Niang said. “When I watch film, I get embarrassed. I guess you could say I graded out well, but it didn’t look as good as it could’ve been. I’m a little disappointed in myself. I think I still have a long way to go before I’m an NFL talent and No. 1 overall.”

The No. 1 emphasis for Niang going into next season is improved run blocking. He’d like to be more dominant in creating lanes for TCU’s running backs to take advantage of.

That comes with being meticulous in his technique and form.

“I need to learn how to measure up my block with the running backs’ angles,” Niang said. “Just pay attention to where they are behind me before the ball is snapped. Just little stuff like that is more next level.”

Niang may not be in the top overall conversation -- only one offensive lineman has been taken with the top overall pick in the last decade (Eric Fisher by the Chiefs in 2013) -- but he’s certainly on NFL radars.

Hall of Fame evaluator and longtime Cowboys executive Gil Brandt listed Niang as his No. 2 senior offensive tackle going into the 2019 season.

Dane Brugler, The Athletic’s NFL Draft analyst, feels Niang has the potential to become an NFL starter.

“Outstanding size, long arms, big hands,” Brugler said. “He’s coordinated on his feet to mirror edge speed. As a senior, scouts are hoping to see improved hand placement and discipline. The talent is there for him to be a NFL starter.

“He has a chance to be the first senior offensive lineman drafted.”

Niang has left impressions on his opponents, too. Iowa State defensive end JaQuan Bailey remembers lining up opposite Niang a few times last season.

“He is really damn good,” Bailey said. “That dude will definitely play on Sundays. He’s one of the best in the nation. Last year I thought he was going to leave, but he came back, which is great for TCU and great of this conference.”

Niang is expected to anchor a TCU offensive line that should be improved from last season. Along with Niang, left tackle Anthony McKinney is more experienced after his first season with the Frogs.

Austin Myers has moved inside to guard, and Cordel Iwuagwu is expected to return to form after an injury-plagued season. Coming out of spring practices, Coy McMillon is listed as the starting center.

“We have a lot of potential to get a lot better,” Niang said. “Having the same five out there is going to play a part in it too. We didn’t have any of that consistency last season. We have Cordel coming back, knock on wood he stays healthy, that’s a staple in the offensive line right there. I think we can be a great unit.”

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