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Extra Points: Aggies' Joeckel is not just the 'safe' choice
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - There is a chance Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel isn't the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft but don't kid yourself, the Kansas City Chiefs want him to anchor their offensive line for the next decade.
Kansas City, of course, holds the top selection in the 2013 draft and while Joeckel is probably not the best player on most big boards, he is the top prospect among the positions deemed worthy of the top selection.
"It's just crazy to think about," Joeckel said when discussing his draft prospects. "Starting football in the second grade, you don't really think about that kind of stuff."
For me, the top two players in this draft are Alabama offensive guard Chance Warmack and Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. An interior offensive lineman, however, is just not valued enough in NFL circles to put Warmack in the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick, while Lotulelei's heart scare at the NFL Scouting Combine eliminated him from the discussion even though his ceiling as a player projects at an All-Pro level.
Joeckel, on the other hand, has been tagged with the label of "safe," a Matt Kalil-like no-brainer who you can stick at the offensive line's most important position and forget about him.
Left tackles may not excite fans but they certainly perk up the moods of offensive-minded coaches like new Chiefs boss Andy Reid. From day one moving forward, Joeckel won't need help, opening up a whole spectrum of options for Reid. In short, the presence of a player like Joeckel on the backside makes game planning that much easier.
That said, Kansas City's new braintrust of Reid and his hand-picked general manager, John Dorsey, would be derelict in its duty if the pick wasn't shopped around.
The Chiefs really played up their visit with West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith at the team's facility recently and also have made their "interest" in Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan and Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd well known.
Feigning interest in the top quarterback and best defensive prospects available, and playing footsie with the other top tackle on the board, Central Michigan's Eric Fisher, could force a QB-desperate team to trade up and give the farm away to Kansas City.
The best and more likely scenario in the City of Fountains is dropping down a spot or two, picking up an extra second- or third-round pick and still getting Joeckel to play bodyguard for new signal-caller Alex Smith.
"It would be really cool," Joeckel said when asked about possible being the No. 1 overall pick. "A dream come true. 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. But my dream is to just play in the NFL."
Although 'tis the season to knock players in draft process, Joeckel is such a sound prospect he has come through the process relatively unscathed with the traditional "needs to add strength" -- the lone strike against him.
That was the same knock on Kalil coming out of Southern California last season and Minnesota took him with the fourth overall pick, inserted him into the starting lineup and watched him develop into a Pro Bowl selection as the team improved from 3-13 to 10-6 and a playoff appearance.
The point is virtually all 21- or 22-year-old kids need to add strength when they enter the NFL and face men who have been training under the auspices of some of the best strength and conditioning coaches in the world.
Joeckel figures to hit the ground running as a dependable, highly skilled pass-blocking specialist. He is patient and has the base, balance and leverage skills coaches drool over.
Joeckel also actually enjoys the game, something that can't be said of every top prospect.
"Football has been huge for me my entire life," he said. "I actually love the game. Just getting to this, this has been a dream come true, just coming to play in the NFL, being in this situation is just, can't even imagine it."
Meanwhile, Joeckel has quick hands, excellent feet and is a player versatile enough to be used in a zone-blocking concept or a more traditional helmet-on- helmet philosophy. He's also got experience protecting a pocket passer in Ryan Tannehill as well as the more movement-based Johnny Manziel.
"I really, really enjoyed blocking for (Tannehill)," Joeckel said. "He's a lot different to block for than my quarterback this year (Johnny Manziel) and I like that a little bit more. (But) I definitely think (blocking for Manziel) made me better. 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."
Joeckel really came to the forefront as a prospect after dominating against eventual national champion Alabama, a team filled with NFL-caliber talent. And Texas A&M's move to the SEC, the top conference in the nation, certainly helped him.
"SEC defensive lines are stout," the big man said. "They are the best defensive lines in the country. Going from the Big 12 to the SEC, you can definitely see a difference, you can see it on film and you can definitely see it playing against it. I think it's a great stepping-stone to go to the NFL after playing against the top guys I played against this year."
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Joeckel's game, though, is the fact that he has remained humble despite his tremendous success at the college level.
"I just try to get better every single week," Joeckel said. "I just tried to play the game, didn't really look at what the media was saying or what the scouts were saying or things like that. I was just trying to play football, it's just all football. That's the only way I approached it."
Dorsey has already told the NFL Network the Chiefs have narrowed their potential No. 1 pick to four players with the buzz in league circles pointing toward Joeckel, Fisher, Jordan and Floyd.
And while Joeckel may be the "safe" choice, he is no comfortable old shoe. In fact, Joeckel is more like the brand new pair of Bruno Maglis that Andy Reid is about to try on.
"I know, being the No. 1 pick, it doesn't really matter. You've got to go prove yourself in the NFL," Joeckel said. "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 2013 NFL DRAFT: TSN'S TOP TACKLES
1. - Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
2. - Eric Fisher, Central Michigan
3. - Lane Johnson, Oklahoma
4. - D.J. Fluker, Alabama
5. - Terron Armstead, Arkansas-Pine Bluff
6. - Kyle Long, Oregon
7. - Dallas Thomas, Tennessee
8. - Menelik Watson, Florida State
9. - David Bakhtiari, Colorado
10. - Oday Aboushi, Virginia
SKILL REPORT: THE TACKLES
Best Pass Blocker: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
Best Run Blocker: D.J. Fluker, Alabama
Best Athlete: Lane Johnson, Oklahoma
Strongest: Terron Armstead, Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Underrated: Terron Armstead, Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Biggest Risk: Menelik Watson, Florida State
04/05 13:11:20 ET
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