INDIANAPOLIS – Record buttons were still being hit and red lights weren’t yet on when the first question about being the first pick in April’s NFL Draft was hurled at Luke Joeckel.
The junior left tackle from Texas A&M spent Thursday going through a battery of medical tests and getting measured from head to toe and everywhere in between at the NFL Scouting combine, taking another step closer to becoming a professional football player. This was just part of the process.
The questions came at him at an NFL pace – fast and unrelenting. But Joeckel looked as calm at the podium as he did side-stepping an SEC defensive end away from his quarterback, Johnny Manziel, last season.
“It would be really cool, a dream come true,” Joeckel said of being the No. 1 pick. “But 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. 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 once you step on that campus. It’s the same thing.”
The baby-faced Joeckel looks more like the boy in the stories he told about pancaking blockers as an offensive lineman for his brother, Matt, the quarterback at Arlington High School, then the man who entered the combine as one of the presumptive top picks in the draft. At 6-foot-6 and 306 pounds, four less than he hoped to weigh in Indianapolis, Joeckel doesn’t fit the standard eye test for most offensive tackles.
If Joeckel is the top pick in the draft, it will be first time an offensive tackle was chosen No. 1 since Jake Long in 2008 and just the fourth time ever. But Joeckel will be the first of a new wave of tackles to go first.
Instead of the imposing mounds of mass that evoke memories of Orlando Pace, former Cardinal Leonard Davis and Jonathan Ogden, Joeckel is leaner and more athletic, similar to Cardinals left tackle
Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim said there are laundry lists of pros and cons for taking tackles who fit that description as a way “to compensate some of the edge rushers who are obviously tremendously talented.”
“But at the same time when you talk about leaner offensive tackles, you still get to a point where, whether it’s speed to power or it’s a situation where you can bull, you’re going to need to drop your hips and you’re going to (have to) be able to anchor,” Keim said. “And sometimes those guys who are the higher cut, longer leaner athletes have a tough time with the physicality of the game when it comes to strength and movement and that sort of things, so it’s a double edge sword. Obviously you want the guy who’s athletic, rangy and is strong. But those guys are far and few between.”
As a high school player, Joeckel studied Cleveland Browns tackle Joe Thomas, who was the third pick overall in 2007. The two have nearly identical physical statistics, with Thomas also standing 6-6 and weighing 312, but it’s Thomas’ power that resonates most with Joeckel.
“He’s got that brute strength, lumberjack strength, and I kind of pride myself on that, too,” Joeckel said. “(He’s) a guy who doesn’t get pushed around too much, and great pass block.
“He plays hard, plays to the whistle.”
The reporters at the combine Thursday weren’t the only people who believed Joeckel could be the No. 1 choice by the Kansas City Chiefs.
Draft analysts Mike Mayock of NFL Network and Mel Kiper, Jr. of ESPN both said the 21-year-old is a perfect fit at the top spot. Kiper also felt three offensive tackles could be off the board by the middle of the first round, which would include the Cardinals at No. 7.
In less than 11 minutes, Joeckel fit in as many stories as he could, showing a maturity that defies his boyish looks. He remembered starting football in the second grade. He shared a story about being forced into giving up a sack when he pancaked a defensive lineman into Matt, who fell to the ground. Then Luke yelled at his brother, who is older by two minutes. He reminisced about lifting weights with Texas A&M teammate Jake Matthews, the son of former NFL great Bruce Matthews.
Then there was this nugget: Joeckel didn’t always want to be a tackle.
He and his brother would split time at quarterback and tight end, when Luke played one position, Matt would line up at the other, and vice versa. But then Luke Joeckel started to grow and ended up on the offensive line because he was simply the biggest guy on the team. Being an offensive lineman started to grow on him and led him to the brink of NFL stardom.
“Growing up, I always thought I was too athletic for the position,” Joeckel said. “(But) I love offensive line.
“The offensive line is what I was born to play. I loved the physical aspect of it. You finish every play with a one-on-one block. There are not many other positions on the field like that. I love that part of it. I’m a background guy, and that’s why I belong on the offensive line.”