2015 NFL DRAFT

NFL Combine: Soft-spoken Joeckel stands out in loaded O-line class

By Jeff Reynolds | NFLDraftScout.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Even with the spotlight fixed on College Station last season during Johnny Manziel's Heisman Trophy run, left tackle Luke Joeckel was content standing in the shadows and doing his job -- namely, keeping defenders away from "Johnny Football."

Anonymity is no longer an option for the 6-foot-6, 306-pound offensive lineman. When he touched down at the 2013 NFL combine, Joeckel was widely considered one of the top-ranked players in the class. He's No. 1 in NFLDraftScout.com's latest rankings.

"The way I'm just looking at it, I want to get there. I am definitely striving to be the No. 1 pick, going through this entire process and playing this season and all that kind of stuff," the baby-faced Joeckel said. "But my dream is to just play in the NFL. I know, being the No. 1 pick, after that, it doesn't really matter. You've got to go prove yourself in the NFL.

"It's just like that in college. Being the No. 1 recruit in college doesn't matter unless you step on that campus. It's the same thing. It's cool and everything, but going to any team I go through, proving myself there will be the biggest thing."

The last time an offensive lineman was selected first overall was 2008, when Michigan's Jake Long went to the Miami Dolphins. In a draft that lacks skill position star power and no sure thing at quarterback, Joeckel leads a highly respected cadre of o-line talent garnering extra attention.

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Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher and Alabama guard Chance Warmack also could be top 10 draft choices.

The Kansas City Chiefs own the No. 1 pick and a need at left tackle. They're expected to part with Branden Albert, the 15th overall pick in 2008 who battled back issues last season.

"I did have a chance to look at him, and I'll tell you, he's a pretty good football player," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said of Albert. "I heard he's a pretty good football player on film, and he was a pretty good football player. I haven't had an opportunity to meet him. I look forward to having that opportunity."

Joeckel is almost certain to come off the board early. He's light on his feet and more than held his own against NFL-level competition in the SEC. There could be more jostling for Warmack and Fisher.

Joeckel was a three-time all-conference pick -- twice in the Big 12, last season in the SEC -- but Fisher developed from more humble beginnings.

"Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan were my only two offers," Fisher said. "And [I] went with Central Michigan and never looked back."

With a strong week of practice against top-tier college competition at the Senior Bowl -- the likes of which he didn't often face in the Mid-American Conference -- Fisher cemented his status as a top 20 prospect.

Oklahoma's Lane Johnson could enter that conversation.

He's a former quarterback who also played tight end and defensive end in a winding road from junior college to Oklahoma. He started at right tackle in his first season with the Sooners and his biggest question mark is inexperience. Johnson has only one full season of reps at left tackle against major college competition.

"It doesn't matter where you start, it's where you end up," Fisher said. "That's a big thing I take to heart."

Bloodlines aside, Long has taken the long road

Given the many obstacles he faced in a path from Florida State and minor league baseball that led him to Oregon, offensive tackle Kyle Long knows the value of being resilient. He's likely to be a middle-round draft pick, becoming the latest member of the Long family -- following father, Howie, and brother, Chris -- to play professional football.

Of the many prospects in this draft to overcome injury and incident, Kyle Long has overcome his own beast.

"Chemical dependency," he said. "It's no secret I was arrested for DUI on Jan. 3, 2009. It was a tipping point for me. The next day I made the decision I wasn't going to be able to go back to Florida State University. There was stuff I needed to work on personally. I took a self-inventory and was able to start the process of recovery. I still have a lot to work on, but I'm happy where I am today."

 
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