As we inch closer to this year’s NFL Draft, our draft team here at Turn On The Jets will be running a series of individual prospect evaluations. These scouting reports are intended to provide an in-depth breakdown of individual prospects in this year’s draft class highlighting players’ overall strengths, weaknesses, potential upside, red flags, and what their best schematic fit will be at the next level. Here we break down Texas A&M Tackle Luke Joeckel.
Prospect: Luke Joeckel
Position: Offensive Tackle
College: Texas A&M
Measurements: 6’ 6” 306 lbs, 34 1/4” arms, 10 1/8” hands
This has certainly been a strange year for NFL Draft prognosticators. It is the first year in a while where there has not been a clear cut number one pick. This is probably due to the fact that there are no consensus franchise Quarterbacks in this draft. This draft might be the weakest QB draft (at least through the pre-draft phase) since 2000 when Jets had 4 first round picks and took Chad Pennington as first QB at pick 18 (And Anthony Becht at 27 from Monsignor Bonner High School, My Alma Mater). I know Tom Brady was in this draft, but none of the draft analysts predicted he would become the player he is.
With that said, the guy who has been at the top of the most mock drafts over the past few months is Luke Joeckel. In this draft, there is even a wide range of spots where people are predicting the Texas A&M tackle will be drafted. A large portion of them have him going number one overall to the Chiefs, while others, like Mel Kiper, don’t even think he is the best tackle in the draft. I have even seen a few mock drafts that have him falling out of the top ten due to his so-so combine performance. On the whole, he projects to be a top four pick with the Chiefs, Jaguars, Raiders, and Eagles all having a need at least at one of their tackle spots.
Joeckel played left tackle for the Aggies, where he protected Johnny Manziel’s blind side and helped him win the Heisman. Like his Quarterback, Joeckel received his fair share of accolades throughout his career. He was named First Team All-Conference in both the Big-12 and the SEC and, as a junior, he took home the Outland Trophy as the Nation’s best interior lineman on either side of the ball. With Joeckel anchoring the line with Jake Matthews, Texas A&M was one of the most prolific offenses in the country.
After seeing/reading The Blind Side, everyone should know how important the blind side tackle has become in the NFL. One of the most coveted positions in the NFL, teams are always looking for that cornerstone at left tackle in this pass happy NFL. So in a year where there aren’t many skilled guys at the top of the heap, it’s no wonder Luke Joeckel is predicted to go number one.
The NFL is a passing league and there’s not a better tackle prospect when it comes to pass protection. Joeckel is as technically sounds as they come in pass pro. His footwork is outstanding and he is almost always laterally balanced. This gives him the ability to shift his weight in order to kick slide to meet a speed rush and power step down to stop rushers’ inside counter moves. He also possesses the best initial kick slides off the snap that I’ve seen this year and in the past few years. It’s not the quickest step, but he covers a lot of ground with it. This is why Joeckel rarely gets beat off the snap by a speed rush. His technical prowess in pass protection is the main reason why scouts have him rated so highly.
Besides his footwork in pass pro, Joeckel possesses a great punch. His punch is well timed and is almost always on target, directly on the rusher’s chest plate. If his hands get knocked off the defender, he has quick enough hands to reset his punch.
This punch and his wide base are what allow Joeckel to be a competent run blocker. While generally not a dominant run blocker, Joeckel does a good enough job of getting a body on the defender in the run game. Although A&M utilizes the zone read as their primary offensive weapon, they run a modified version of zone blocking up front that often has the tackles blocking one on one. While Joeckel doesn’t get much vertical movement, he has good hand placement and a wide base that allow him to stay on his man. He has also mastered the technique of walling off the defender. Instead of driving the defender on inside zone or iso plays, Joeckel simply turns out his defender essentially using his body as a wall between the defender and the running back. In its purest form, it is a similar technique to pass protection, which explains why he is so good at it. He also likes to use this technique out in space blocking downfield whether at the second level on run plays or on screens.
Despite Joeckel being the highest rated prospect by services like Scouts, Inc. there are some weaknesses to his game. The most jarring weakness is his lower body strength on the field. Despite his great footwork, he doesn’t currently posses the ability to stone bull rushes in the pass game and drive defenders off the ball in the run game. While his lateral balance is fantastic because of his athleticism and footwork, he can often times get ran over by stronger pass rushers. He just doesn’t have the propensity to drop the anchor and stop the bull rush. This is not something I like to see happen at all from a number one tackle, let alone several times on film. It is worrisome to think what will happen when he faces someone like J.J. Watt who has great power rush moves.
His lack of strength is also visible in the run game. Joeckel simply isn’t a bruising type of tackle that will just move defensive lineman out of the way. He is more of a finesse tackle that will stay on his man so that the back can make a cut off his block. It doesn’t help that he has almost always been in a 2 point stance at A&M and can come off the ball with a high hat.
Even though he is a finesse tackle and has great footwork, he is not a very good reach blocker. It almost doesn’t make sense that he can have such quick feet in pass pro and when walling off defenders, but can’t properly execute a reach block on a consistent basis. His feet will generally slow down upon contact and he will often never gain the edge against the defender. I almost wonder if it is a scheme idiosyncrasy that A&M utilizes because Matthews does the same thing on the other side.
In his press conference at the Combine, Joeckel talked about how playing in the SEC really helped his profile because he played well against the best college players in the country. While he did put some good film out there against some really good pass rushers, Joeckel also put some really bad film out there and I am shocked that more draft analysts haven’t talked about it. Against Florida, Luke Joeckel was dominated by OLB Lerentee McCray (#34). He played well against every other defender he faced, but struggled both physically and mentally when he faced McCray. McCray easily shed Joeckel in the run game and beat him with speed and power rush moves. You could literally see Joeckel’s demeanor change on the field. Although McCray is being looked at as an NFL OLB, he was a rotation guy at Florida and never saw a lot of playing time until his senior year. Accordingly, NFL.com gave him a prospect grade of 58 as compared to Joeckel’s rating of 94.3. I can guarantee that this is the first film NFL Front Offices are showing him when they meet. If that film is any indication, then someone is going to land a great mid to late round OLB in McCray and Luke Joeckel has some explaining to do. I could totally see him explaining this film at Gruden’s QB Camp.
Despite some of Joeckel’s weaknesses, his man rarely makes the play. It is not because of the elusiveness of Johnny Manziel, as some might believe. It is because Joeckel is always on his man and allows for skilled guys to make moves off of his body position. He is an athletic offensive lineman and versatile too. Texas A&M has a few packages where Joeckel moves to right tackle and an unbalanced package where he plays tight end. When they do move him, they are generally running his way. This says to me that even though the defense knows they’re running to Joeckel’s side, the Aggies don’t care because they know he is going to make the block.
Like a lot of prospects coming out of the draft, Luke Joeckel is not a complete player. He is rated as the number one prospect in the draft by many not because of what he is right now, but because of what he can be. His ceiling is extremely high. He can immediately play left or right tackle and can become one of the most proficient offensive linemen in the league if he improves his strength, particularly in the lower body. If he can put on about 15 – 20 pounds and develop a strong anchor to stone power rushes, I see no reason why he can’t develop into the best offensive tackle in the NFL. If he can’t become a more powerful player, then I think Joeckel can be a serviceable lineman that will be viewed as a bust, especially if he is drafted first overall.