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Joeckel leads impressive o-line class into combine

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Any conversation about the 2013 offensive line must begin at the top, with Texas A&M junior left tackle Luke Joeckel.

The three-time all-conference blocker proved to be elite in his first season in the SEC and is's top overall prospect.

Senior Bowl standouts Eric Fisher (Central Michigan) and Oklahoma's Lane Johnson, a convert from offense with experience at tight end and quarterback, are also likely to be top-20 picks. Joeckel has prototype size and athleticism and is sure to contribute immediately at the premium "blindside" position.

There is enough depth to go around with exciting developmental prospects likely to be on the board in the middle rounds.

With two relatively strong bets to be first-round picks, the guard position is also stacked. Alabama's Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper of North Carolina could also go in the top 20.

The center class isn't as talented or deep as it has been in recent years.

Most to gain in Indianapolis

Logic says that the players who put forth the most impressive workout results have the most in gain at the combine. That isn't necessarily the case. In most cases, elite athletes are already recognized as such by scouts. The players who boost their grades during the athletic drills at the combine are those who show better-than-expected athleticism or help their cause through interviews.

Wisconsin's Rick Wagner and Oregon's Kyle Long are prime examples.

Wagner was a standout for the Badgers but is not the physically dominant run-blocker Wisconsin has consistently sent into the NFL. He is light on his feet, especially given the fact he sports a 6-foot-6-inch, 310-pound frame. A solid showing at the combine could help Wagner differentiate himself.

Long, the son of Hall of Fame defensive end Howie and brother of St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris, is well known for his athleticism. He was drafted by the Chicago White Sox as a pitcher and emerged as a starter late last year for the Ducks despite having played college football for only two years.

There are plenty of reasons for pause. Long's time in Eugene was short. He started just four games in 2012, with each of them coming at left guard, not outside at tackle as his 6-6, 304-pound frame would seem to suggest he'd fit best.

Furthermore, scouts will want to discuss his past. Long was arrested and charged with DUI in 2009, and after only three seasons of college football, he'll need to prove on the white board that he understands the complexities of today's blocking schemes.

Medical watch

For all of the talk about 40-yard dash, vertical jumps and bench press totals that dominate combine coverage, the single-most critical element will be medical testing taking place in Indianapolis.

Players have the option of passing on workouts at the combine, but every one of the 333 players invited will be subjected to a battery of medical evaluations that range from blood tests to X-rays to psychological testing. Any player with a known past injury -- ACL, shoulder stinger, broken arm -- is more likely to be studied by physicians, who'll want to know how the injury healed and make a secondary evaluation.

Receiving a "red flag" on a medical test can destroy a player's draft stock. Former Washington running back Chris Polk entered the combine a year ago widely viewed as a top prospect, but after medical tests showed extensive damage done to his shoulders and knees, he fell out of the draft entirely. To his credit, Polk made the Philadelphia Eagles roster as an undrafted free agent.

Medical grades on offensive and defensive linemen are even more important to their final draft grade.

LSU's Chris Faulk (ACL), North Carolina's Brennan Williams (torn labrum) and California's Matt Summers-Gavin (recurring right knee injuries) are three players whose play could warrant consideration in the first three rounds, but only if teams are satisfied with their health.

Tale of the tape

Scouts have seen top prospects on the field and many were studied on the "catwalk" prior to senior all-star games, where the official measurements -- height, weight, hand size and arm length -- are recorded. But the measuring tape becomes newsworthy in Indianapolis as it applies to underclassmen, whom scouts often haven't seen up close yet.

Colorado's David Bakhtiari and LSU's Faulk have a lot riding on how they measure up in Indianapolis.

Bakhtiari was listed by Colorado at 6-4, 295. By NFL standards, that's light for an NFL offensive lineman, and some scouts wonder if he has the arm length and balance to handle remaining outside at offensive tackle. If moved inside, Bahktiari might have to add mass, especially in his lower body, to be able to anchor against today's massive defensive tackles.

Faulk, listed at 6-6, 323, on the other hand, has shown remarkably light feet while protecting the edge against SEC speed. He has carried more weight across his middle than most offensive line coaches want in their left tackle, so his overall fitness will be evaluated by scouts.

Next question

Just like any interview, including the formal sitdowns players have with potential employers at the Scouting Combine, the goal is to convey your strengths and stress experience, intelligence and dedication.

Each NFL team is allowed 60 formal player interviews. Each interview can last up to 15 minutes. The topics of conversation can fluctuate wildly from team to team and from player to player.

One under-the-radar player who could have a full "dance card" is West Texas A&M offensive tackle Manase Foketi.

Foketi signed with Kansas State as a highly regarded JUCO prospect and performed well at this position in 2010. He tore his Achilles tendon two games into the 2011 season and was given a redshirt. Rather than return to the team in 2012, Foketi decided he wanted to transfer for his final season of eligibility.

For reasons that teams will want to explore, the highly respected Bill Snyder and his staff would not allow Foketi to transfer to another FBS program. Foketi transferred to the Buffaloes where the talented 6-5, 333-pound left tackle, not surprisingly dominated. He was named one of three finalists for the Gene Washington Division II Offensive Lineman of the Year Award.

His play caught the attention of the East-West Shrine Game talent scouts. After agreeing to play (and being measured in preparation to practice), he suffered an undisclosed injury early in the week and left. As such, teams will have plenty of questions for him.

Workout warriors

For many reasons, the previous segments of the combine are more important, but the extraordinary athleticism demonstrated during drills can leave scouts (and the media) buzzing. This hype has helped push players up draft boards in the past and it will continue to do so in 2013.

Two offensive linemen who are expected to dazzle in workouts this year are Arkansas Pine-Bluff's Terron Armstead and Florida State's Menelik Watson.

The 6-5, 306-pound Armstead is already rising up draft boards after proving himself to be the most talented blocker at the East-West Shrine Game and performing well as a late injury-replacement at the Senior Bowl. He could have signed with more a more prominent program out of high school but signed with Arkansas Pine-Bluff because it was the only school that would allow him to participate in both football and track, as he was a state champion shot-putter.

Watson, a junior, has an even more fascinating story.

A native of Manchester, England, the 6-5, 320-pounder originally planned to use basketball as an avenue to athletic stardom and tried his hands at boxing before ultimately switching to football. After just one year at Saddlebrook Community College in California, FBS programs across the country had heard of his unbelievable athleticism and were racing to sign him. He signed with the Seminoles over Oklahoma, Oregon and Rutgers, among others. The FSU coaches pleaded with him to return for his senior season, but Watson left after just one season in Tallahassee.

He's raw, but don't be surprised when he proves to be one of the combine's biggest stars.

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