Meet the Most Likely No. 1 Pick in the NFL Draft: Luke Joeckel
Do you think the Kansas City Chiefs are considering drafting Geno Smith, Eric Fisher or anyone else besides Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel with the No. 1 overall pick? If so, be sure to let the Chiefs know their plan is working perfectly.
When draft picks are evaluated, words like "upside" and "potential" rule the day. If this guy can add a little weight without slowing down, if that guy can smooth out his cuts, if you put this guy in the right system—so much of draft talk is wondering what a player might be able to do in the pros.
If you watch Joeckel play, there's no wondering about it: He is a pro. He's not a perfect prospect, but he's NFL-ready right now.
The Myth of the Elite Left Tackle
The dominance of the Dallas Cowboys offensive line in the early '90s, the golden generation of Jonathan Ogden, Orlando Pace and Walter Jones in the late '90s and early '00s and the multimedia phenomenon called The Blind Side raised a generation of fans to believe left tackles have to be ballet-dancing human mountains to be effective.
The importance of the left tackle in protecting the quarterback is probably overstated; no NFL team relies on one defensive end or outside linebacker for all of its pass rush. As more defenses prioritize speed and pass-rushing on the inside and both edges of the defensive line, one he-man left tackle can't block all of them.
Further, as more offenses pass more and run less, a left tackle who can blow open holes as well as he seals off defenders isn't as important. Today's franchise left tackle doesn't need to be a 6'9", 340-pound Hall of Fame freak of nature like Ogden.
However, a left tackle that can neutralize the threat of a sack or sack-strip fumble from the blind side is still a major asset. A guy who can keep the quarterback calm and comfortable in the pocket will do wonders for an offense, and a guy with the skill and polish to do that from his first minicamp—and for a decade thereafter—is a gem.
Luke Joeckel is that guy.
Don't Sweat the Numbers
The NFL combine is great for a lot of things, but when it comes to evaluating offensive line talent, the workout numbers don't tell the story. Here are Joeckel's workout figures matched up against the other top tackles:
Per NFLCombineResults.com, Joeckel didn't beat both of the other two in any measured category. In fact, he finished 19th out of 27 offensive tackles in the 40-yard dash and tied Eric Fisher for eighth of 20 who did the bench press.
One combine number does hint at Joeckel's true strength, though: his three-cone drill time, second only to Lane Johnson out of 22 tackles measured. Joeckel isn't going to play tight end, as Fisher did when he came to Central Michigan, but he's still a left tackle with outstanding athleticism.
Watch the Tape
There's a reason Joeckel was considered to be a significantly better prospect than Fisher before the draft season began: Joeckel played like it. In the SEC, the conference with the most athletic defensive linemen, he locked it down.
The folks at DraftBreakdown.com do an incredible job of producing video cut-ups of top prospects, and the work they did with Joeckel is no exception. Here's Joeckel facing off against Auburn speed-rusher Corey Lemonier:
Watching this matchup shows you everything Joeckel does well, especially his instincts and his kick-step.
Joeckel fundamentally understands angles; he always gets to the perfect spot and never overreacts. This is one of the reasons people don't freak out about his athleticism: He's not out there trying to commit great feats of athleticism; he's just out there to block. He gets to his spot, gets his hands on his man and doesn't let go.
Against a speed demon like Lemonier, a left tackle might try to get as far outside as possible and leave himself open to the inside move. Joeckel doesn't make this mistake, and he has the strength to keep Lemonier from shedding the block and getting behind him.
Joeckel also has outstanding recovery ability. On the rare occasions he gives up an advantage to the rusher, he's savvy enough to do what it takes to avoid a sack—without drawing a penalty.
In one-on-one pass protection, Joeckel's great. When teams bring blitzes, though, he sometimes has trouble picking up the right guy. It's hard to tell from tape alone if this is his error or the coaches', but Joeckel has to do better when not blocking the guy right in front of him.
Joeckel is less impressive when drive-blocking, reach-blocking or getting to the second level. He doesn't have the raw strength or technique to consistently get under and drive back bigger defensive ends, and he doesn't seem to go forward with any kind of aggression.
That's all much less important for a left tackle than, say, a right guard, but they're things to note.
If the No. 1 pick belonged to a team like the Ravens, who are built around zone blocking, power running and play action, Joeckel might not be the right fit. The Ravens don't have that pick, though; the Chiefs do—and Andy Reid's pass-first offense is a perfect match for the former Aggie's tools.
The Chiefs can't afford to overthink this. Joeckel is one of the few plug-in pros available in this weak draft class, at a spot of need. Geno Smith is an even bigger gamble than Alex Smith was in his day, and the Chiefs have both a fully realized Smith and an intriguing young backup in Chase Daniel.
As for Fisher, he's a little taller, a little leaner, a little faster and has very slightly longer arms. In theory, he has the potential to be an even better pass protector than Joeckel.
This kind of thinking, though, is dangerous. The allure of combine numbers and "upside" had people thinking Ryan Leaf might be a better pro than Peyton Manning.
The Chiefs can't afford to overthink this.
Joeckel will step in and be at least a good NFL tackle, maybe very good and possibly great. Between Joeckel and franchise-tagged left tackle Branden Albert, they'll have one of the NFL's toughest-to-fill premium positions scratched off the list for years. If they try and get cute, they'll be making a mountain of a mistake.
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