INDIANAPOLIS — In the summer months leading up to the start of the 2019 college football season, TCU senior Lucas Niang was considered one of the top offensive tackle prospects in the country. He was almost certain to receive first-round grades from NFL teams for his combination of length and fluidity in pass protection after allowing zero sacks the previous year.
His year went according to plan, for the most part, showing the same level of consistency, strength and footwork in all facets of the game — looking the part of the top prospect he was billed as before the season — but then the Texas game happened.
“I told the trainers I couldn’t lift my leg up all the way,” Niang said Wednesday at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine. “It was getting worse and worse. I couldn’t play my technique. I couldn’t play my game.”
After the game, Niang underwent surgery for a torn labrum in his hip that he had been playing through since 2018, but the pain had finally caught up to him. He said the decision to get the procedure, however, was worse.
“It was so hard,” Niang said. “I saw a couple doctors and they told me to shut it down before the Texas game. I felt like I knew my body best so I kept playing until I couldn’t play anymore. The Texas game was the big warning to me like I couldn’t do anything I wanted.”
One of the biggest things Niang adjusted from 2018 to ‘19 was his pass set. It forced him to change his drops altogether, as well as focusing more on fine-tuning his timing and hand usage to make up for the lost ground with his hip.
“I had to backpedal because it was just too much explosive movement on my hip,” Niang said. “If I vertical set, I could only play like one more play after that. It was too painful. So I tried to get my hands out earlier because I couldn’t burst out of my stance as fast.”
He didn’t give up any sacks while playing injured and made impressive strides as a run blocker in his senior year despite his status.
Niang hopes his mental toughness to play through that pain and adapt his game to continue playing at a high level should play an instrumental role in his evaluation, believing that drive is what separates him in this offensive tackle class.
But after not being able to participate in this year’s combine because of ongoing rehabilitation, Niang’s time will have to wait.
“It kills me,” Niang said. “It’s been my dream since I was a little kid to come to the combine and show everybody what I was capable of doing, but I’ve got to be patient, keep pushing with my rehab, and at my Pro Day, I’m going to show everybody.”
Niang, who measures in at 6-foot-6, 315 pounds with 34-inch arms, has the athletic and physical profile of a starting left tackle. His tape showed that, his production with zero sacks helped quantify that — all of that in his addition to his strong mental makeup, means he’s ready to become a professional.
All of Niang’s medical reports since arriving in Indianapolis have been favorable. In my opinion, if NFL teams get the “all clear” from trainers, he enters the top-tier offensive tackle conversation. However, not every medical report is the same for each team, and he could almost certainly be a Draft Day slider, possibly even to the late Day 2 range.
Niang’s draft range is all over the map. He could be a first-round player or fall out of the top 100, but if healthy, his skill set is up there with the top tackles in this class. It makes Niang the biggest wild card in his position class — if not one of the biggest wild cards in the entire 2020 NFL draft.