With the 2012 NFL season in the books, and the scouting combine in the rear-view, it's time to take a closer look at the 50 players we think will be the biggest difference-makers at the next level from this draft class. To that end, we're happy to continue this year's Shutdown 50 scouting reports (Hint: There may actually be more than 50). You can read last year's group here. The final 50 players were chosen and ranked based on game tape, combine and Pro Day results, overall positional value, and attributes and liabilities on and off the field.
#2: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
We continue this year's series with Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, who chose the Aggies over a host of other big schools and established himself as A&M's starting left tackle in his freshman year. From then through his senior campaign, Joeckel kept re-affirming his status as the one constant in an offense that changed schemes and marquee quarterbacks. As the Aggies moved from Ryan Tannehill to Johnny Manziel, Joeckel's ability to block for mobile quarterbacks (which is a lot harder than some think, because mobile quarterbacks tend to create their own pressure) was appreciated as a real asset.
I definitely think it made me better," Joeckel said at the scouting combine about blocking for Manziel. "In practice, you can’t see the way he plays in games because it’s a quick whistle and no contact on the quarterback. We get in that first game against Florida, you can see what he can do with the ball and see how he extends plays, and you got to learn pretty quickly to hold your block longer. I think that definitely made me a better pass blocker. I was trying to hold my blocks as long as I could. It made me a better-conditioned offensive lineman, which I think is huge. Everyone thinks of offensive linemen as big guys who can’t move for very long, aren’t well-conditioned. But at A&M, we had a very well-conditioned line, and I think that helped a lot, blocking with Johnny."
One would struggle to claim that Joeckel lacks any sort of physical conditioning when watching him play. Though I do not see him as the best tackle in this draft class, it's clear that he's a multi-faceted blocker with a great deal to offer at the NFL level.
Pros: Has an effective kick-step in pass-protection -- comes off the ball at a slight angle and backs away, but isn't especially prone to inside moves. Sets back against edge rushers and makes it very difficult for them to get around in the pocket. Mirrors especially well to prevent rushers from getting around him near the end of the play. Not specifically built for lower-body power, but plays with a very wide base and outstanding fundamentals and rarely gets rocked back. Excellent drive blocker through the line and to the second level. Latches on to his target and forces the angle he wants. Pinches in to the tackle effectively and is able to establish good power to the side. Good cut-blocker who doesn't whiff when he aims and lunges. Seals the edge with consistency inside and outside.
Very field-aware player who will pick up gap stunts and delayed blitzes. Great leverage player for a guy who plays primarily in a two-point stance. Recovers well if he's beaten first-step off the snap. Outstanding grasp of fundamentals, and from all accounts, Joeckel is a high-character guy with an extreme desire to progress and excel. Experience in different offensive systems should help him pave his way to the NFL and make him more scheme-transcendent. No questions about strength of opponent -- if anything, Joeckel has an impressive ability to mirror the talents of his opponents without backing off against lesser teams.
Cons: Not a great or agile mover in space -- takes a second to get his body moving on the run and could be factored out on extended downfield blocks. Needs to hit his target on point because he doesn't have a lot of lateral mobility upfield and in zone situations. Would be better in a quick-step offense; was often asked to take the inside rusher on blitzes to his side and let the outside man move in with the quarterback directed to hit his hot read. Needs work on chipping one defender and moving to the second -- that's more a function of scheme than an indictment of his abilities, but it's an issue on tape. Will occasionally take his hands off blocks too quickly, though that's not a specifically recurring problem. Not a completely evolved kick-step guy and is slightly vulnerable to exceedingly fast edge-rushers who move quickly around the pocket boundary.
Conclusion: Calling a draft prospect "safe" is generally seen as pejorative, as it implies a low ceiling or a player who has maxed out in his development. I believe that Luke Joeckel is the best kind of safe player -- the kind who will hit the field in the NFL and be an impact starter from the start. There are a few issues to deal with from a tools perspective, but there shouldn't be any question about Joeckel's long-term outlook. He's as "plug-and-play" as any player in this draft class, and stands to be one of the best investments in the last few years.
NFL Comparison: Jake Long, Miami Dolphins (2008-2011)
More Shutdown 50:
#50: Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State | #49: John Jenkins, DL, Georgia | #48: Cornellius "Tank" Carradine, DE, Florida State | #47: Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State | #46: Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse | #45: E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State | #44: Margus Hunt, DE, SMU | #43: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson | #42: Kyle Long, OL, Oregon | #41: Mike Glennon, QB, North Carolina State | #40: Jonathan Cyprien, SS, Florida International | #39: Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame | #38: Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU | #37: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama | #36: Johnthan Banks, DB, Mississippi State | #35: Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama | #34: Matt Barkley, QB, USC | #33: Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas | #32: Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford | #31: Matt Elam, SS, Florida | #30: Alex Okafor, DE, Texas | #29: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M | #28: Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State | #27: Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia | #26: Robert Woods, WR, USC | #25: Kevin Minter, ILB, LSU | #24: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama | #23: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington | #22: Keenan Allen, WR, Cal | #21: Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame | #20: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas | #19: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri | #18: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State | #17: Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU | #16: Datone Jones, DL, UCLA | #15: D.J. Hayden, CB, Houston | #14: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee | #13: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU | #12: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia | #11: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia | #10: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia | #9: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama | #8: Dion Jordan, OLB/DE, Oregon | #7: Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina | #6: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma | #5: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida | #4: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah | #3: Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama