FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.—The man many analysts project to be the first offensive lineman selected in April's NFL Draft is still unsure if he wants to jump to the NFL rather than return to Texas A&M for his senior season.
Luke Joeckel, the Aggies' 6-6, 310-pound All-American left tackle, told CBSSports.com Sunday afternoon that it is very tempting to return to College Station -- where the Aggies, coming off an 11-2 record and a Cotton Bowl destruction of Oklahoma -- are primed to make a run at a BCS title.
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“I love my teammates and we have such a great team coming back,” Joeckel said. “It'd just be so hard to leave College Station and leave my friends. We have a lot back, too. We do lose Damontre (Moore) and we have senior linebackers, but we think we have some guys that will step up.
“It's just a rough decision both ways. There are so many pros and cons. It's going to take a lot of time and a lot of prayer.”
Some NFL draft analyst have predicted Joeckel could go in the top three picks if he decides to leave early. The Aggies' other starting tackle, Jake Matthews, also a junior, is projected as a first-round pick as well. Matthews' father is former NFL great Bruce Matthews, who Joeckel says has been a great sounding board for his family.
“My dad has called and talked to him a few times,” said Joeckel. “[Bruce Matthews] has helped a ton. He's a little bit different (than the typical NFL O-lineman). Not many guys, especially linemen, can play in the NFL for 19 years. He had just one of those indestructible bodies. It's crazy.
“Me and Jake talk about it, too. We don't talk about it all the time because we had a big bowl to play against OU, and that was one thing about me and Jake, we were solely focused on playing football. We weren't worried about the NFL. That was a good thing but it's also a bad thing because now we have to make our decision in 10 days. We'll keep in touch and pick each other's brains."
Asked about the compelling factor besides the obvious financial reasons, Joeckel pointed out that he has jumped at opportunity before.
“I graduated high school early because the opportunity presented itself and I knew I had the chance to play early and I had to step up and make that decision. I think that was a great decision for me. It's the same thing with this I feel like. The opportunity is there. Who knows what is going to happen next year? There's (potentially) injuries. We're in the tough SEC. Who knows? The biggest ‘pro' is to take your opportunity when it's there. It's going to be such a hard decision.”
Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, hoping Joeckel and Matthews return for their senior seasons, hasn't been shy about reminding his buddy about all the fun they've had this season.
“He's having some of the great times of his life,” said Manziel. “This year has been so been so fun, and that's the main thing I can't stress enough is how much fun it has been. So much fun. We have a ton of pieces coming back, and the sky is the limit for us next year. I feel like we can do a lot of things next year. We have a favorable schedule. If him and Jake come back, that's two great tackles and future first-round draft picks
“People have asked me, ‘What do you want to do next?' That -- the national championship -- is on top of the list for a sure. It's not a Heisman."
The deadline for underclassmen to apply for the draft is Jan. 15.