This year's Cotton Bowl showcased a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, the Big 12's all-time leading passer and several defensive prospects that will soon be playing in the league. But for NFL evaluators, this game contained three talented offensive tackles who could soon hear their name called in the first round of April's NFL Draft.
OT Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M (junior) – the Aggies' starting left tackle is not only NFLDraftScout.com's No. 1 draft-eligible offensive tackle for the 2013 NFL Draft, but also the No. 1 overall prospect. He isn't overly flashy, but extremely steady and consistent with NFL intangibles and physical tools for the pros. Listed at 6-6 and 310 pounds, Joeckel has started every game at left tackle the past three seasons and if the Cotton Bowl was his final collegiate game, he went out with a bang. His quarterback, freshman sensation Johnny Manziel, had all day to throw, run or figure out what he was going to do against the Sooners. Joeckel was able to anchor, mirror and adjust to handle Oklahoma's pass rushers while displaying a nasty demeanor in the run game, winning angles and sealing holes. The Kansas City Chiefs' biggest need isn't offensive tackle, but with Joeckel's ability, they'll definitely consider him with the No. 1 overall pick.
OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M (junior) – For as good as Joeckel is on the left side, Matthews is equally as talented on the right side. While the Mannings have locked down a family legacy at quarterback, the Matthews family has produced numerous pro offensive linemen and Jake is the next in line. Against Oklahoma, he showed why some NFL scouts think he's actually the better pro prospect than his teammate at left tackle. Matthews set up quickly off the snap and got in the correct position, staying patient and jolting rushers at the point of attack. He also did a nice job blocking on the move and showed the mobility that leads many to believe he has the skill-set to play either left or right tackle. If he decides to enter the 2013 NFL Draft, Matthews should join Joeckel as a top-10 pick.
OT Lane Johnson, Oklahoma (senior) – While not nearly as well-known as the Aggies tackle tandem, Johnson isn't far behind Joeckel and Matthews in the minds of NFL scouts. He secured the left tackle position in 2012 for the Sooners and progressed with each game, culminating his collegiate career in the Cotton Bowl with an excellent individual performance. Johnson looked athletic and coordinated in his stance, staying balanced in space and doing damage at the second level. He was very aggressive as a run blocker, especially with his hands, but has shown he has room to improve with his technique. However, it's refreshing to see an offensive lineman with his mean streak and nasty attitude, especially when you consider he started his career as a quarterback before moving to tight end, then to defensive end, before finding his home at offensive tackle last season. Unlike Joeckel and Matthews, Johnson isn't a hot name right now, but with a strong showing at the Senior Bowl, he should cement his status as a first rounder and possible top-20 selection.
- A smart, tough receiver, Texas A&M senior WR Ryan Swope played well against the Sooners' tough secondary, finishing with eight catches for 104 yards and one touchdown. Swope showed why he's a very “QB-friendly” receiver, routinely working to get open with the toughness to work over the middle.
- Although he will bring a productive resume to the NFL, Oklahoma senior QB Landry Jones showed in the Cotton Bowl why scouts still have questions about parts of his game. On some throws, he flowed away from pressure and showed off his talented arm, delivering a strike downfield. But on other passes, he failed to correctly read the coverage and, with his relaxed throwing motion, was late delivering to the intended target. Jones has the size, arm and experience to be an early round draft pick, but his hot/cold decision-making, like in Friday's game, will push him down draft boards.
- Several prospects from this game will have a tough NFL decision to make over the next week. For the Aggies, it will be tough for Joeckel and Matthews to pass up the top-10 while junior DE Damontre Moore has already decided he's going pro. For Oklahoma, FS Tony Jefferson, WR Kenny Stills, FB Trey Millard and CB Aaron Colvin all project as NFL draft picks, but they will need to decide if they are ready now or need another year of seasoning in Norman.