For most of the 2013 offseason, Texas A&M tackle Luke Joeckel has occupied the top spot among offensive linemen in this year's draft class, with many pundits expecting him to be the first overall selection in the 2013 NFL draft.
However, at least one leading draft "expert" has flipped that script, and this year's fastest-rising player is now staking his claim to be the first name called on April 25 in New York City.
That player is Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher, who NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock has elevated to the top spot in his latest draft rankings, stating that Fisher is "longer, more athletic, and has a bit more upside."
Fisher has been skyrocketing up draft boards since a dominant showing at January's Senior Bowl. The 6'7", 306-pounder's rise continued with a strong workout at February's NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
Mayock isn't alone in this assessment, as Dane Brugler of CBS Sports sees Fisher being the first overall pick in this year's draft.
However, after Joeckel's pro day at Texas A&M last month, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that many scouts had a hard time seeing the Kansas City Chiefs pass on the All-American with the first overall selection.
And there's good reason for that. There are hours of game tape showing Joeckel acquitting himself very well against SEC talent last year. As Dan Pompei recently reported for the National Football Post, Joeckel is as NFL-ready as they come. That refinement is very appealing to NFL teams.
Joeckel is a pretty complete physical package. And he is a finished product. Joeckel should be able to step into an NFL starting lineup immediately and remain there for ten years. “His angles are so good,” one AFC general manager said. “Everything is perfect with him. He’s technically smooth. He’s incredibly instinctive, and sometimes that passes people by.”
Joeckel isn't overly big or overly strong or overly athletic. What he is, however, is a complete package, a player who combines more-than-adequate physical traits with excellent technique.
The result is an excellent offensive lineman who looks the part of an immediate starter as a pro.
With that said, however, the more that scouts and draft experts alike see of Fisher, the more they like, and the reason is a term as tantalizing as it is enigmatic.
Fisher may not have Joeckel's technique, but he's a superior athlete, and as Russ Lande of the National Football Post recently pointed out in a piece comparing the two players, that makes Fisher the better blocker in the open field.
Fisher has elite foot speed pulling and getting out in front on outside runs and can adjust to block a moving target with surprising ease. He has the talent to be the rare offensive lineman who can make a block 20+ yards down the field.
This same athleticism leads some scouts and pundits to theorize that Fisher could develop into a better tackle than Joeckel. As one NFC general manager told Pompei quite plainly "If you want upside, you take Fisher.”
So far as to which is the "better" prospect, that's a very difficult question to answer. It's like asking whether Coke or Pepsi is better.
If you're thirsty, both will get the job done, so it boils down to as much to the personal preference of NFL clubs as any real gap between the ability of the two young beefeaters.
Joeckel is the more finished product, a player who may be closer to his ceiling than Fisher, but who also appears to be the "safer" of the two picks, if only marginally.
Meanwhile, Fisher is the better athlete, a player who many believe has the potential to be the better pro if he can maximize his physical gifts.
It's the classic risk/reward conversation, without much risk. Both players seem set for long and productive careers.
At the end of the day, Lande throws his hat into the Fisher ring with Mayock and Brugler, although the comparisons he makes to both players are very complimentary.
When you add everything up, in my opinion Joeckel is the more consistent blocker, but also more of a finesse, positional blocker and reminds me of current Browns’ left tackle Joe Thomas. While Fisher is a more explosive athlete who blocks with more of a nasty, aggressive temperament, similar to Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil, which I think gives him a chance to be the better NFL tackle.
Gee. Matt Kalil or Joe Thomas. That's a rough choice.
Most NFL teams would happily take either, and in my opinion, that's where we'll be in five years with Fisher and Joeckel.
Two NFL teams very happy with their Pro Bowl left tackles.