|Thomas Campbell /USA TODAY Sports|
|Luke Joeckel is one of the top prospects in the draft, with most expecting the tackle to make an instant impact.|
Offensive tackles have always been valued at a premium, but with the NFL's recent transformation into a passing league, the position has become even more of a prime focus on draft day. General managers and head coaches understand that the best way to protect a franchise quarterback is to pair him with an elite offensive tackle on the blind side.
Since 2008, eight offensive tackles have been selected in the top 10, with four of those players (Matt Kalil, Trent Williams, Russell Okung and Jake Long) earning Pro Bowl honors during that span. While Jason Smith (second overall, 2009) stands alone as a monumental bust -- he was cut by the St. Louis Rams last August and is now a backup with the New York Jets -- the fact that seven other offensive tackles taken within the top 10 have been solid starters for their respective squads has encouraged scouts to cast their eyes to the college game in search of the next great pass protector.
As I evaluate the top offensive tackles in the 2013 class, the guy I believe every offensive coordinator in the NFL should want is Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel. At 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds, Joeckel is the prototypical left tackle prospect with the frame and length to stalemate pass rushers. Most importantly, he is a fluid athlete with the balance, body control and lateral quickness to effectively shadow and mirror on the edge. Joeckel's exceptional movement skills are complemented by superb technique and fundamentals. In the run game, Joeckel excels at blocking defenders on the move. He climbs quickly to the second level, and his athleticism and quickness make him an ideal fit in the zone-based blocking schemes that frequently require edge blockers to handle defenders in space. Additionally, Joeckel would fit into schemes that feature various elements of the screen game, which puts offensive linemen on the move.
In looking for potential flaws in Joeckel's game, I would cite his lack of elite strength and power. He is more of a positional blocker, adept at using body positioning and angles -- instead of brute strength -- to neutralize defenders. While it rarely shows up on film, power players could give him problems on bull rushes off the edge. Additionally, Joeckel could have problems sealing the corner on perimeter runs against stout defensive ends with strength and power.
Regardless of those potential concerns, Joeckel is one of the best pass protectors to enter the league in some time; I envision him blossoming into an immediate difference maker at the next level. Here are five potential fits for Joeckel on draft day:
Kansas City Chiefs (No. 1 overall pick)
Andy Reid must address the Chiefs' suspect quarterback situation at some point, but he certainly understands the importance of a solid offensive line following his turnover-plagued demise at the end of his tenure in Philadelphia. In Kansas City, Reid faces the possibility of losing his starting left tackle, Branden Albert, in free agency, which would make selecting Joeckel at No. 1 a no-brainer. If Albert returns, the Chiefs could still draft Joeckel and have a formidable combination on the edges, ensuring solid protection for the quarterback and huge running lanes for Jamaal Charles on the perimeter. Given the lack of production and consistency from the Chiefs' offense in recent years, shoring up the front line could be a top priority for Reid.
Philadelphia Eagles (No. 4)
Chip Kelly brings his innovative offense to the NFL, but he could have a tough time orchestrating the high-powered attack behind a leaky offensive line that surrendered 48 sacks in 2012. While some of the Eagles' protection issues could be resolved with the return of Jason Peters, the addition of Joeckel would give the team a young, athletic pass protector to build around. Given the importance of keeping a potential dual-threat playmaker upright in the pocket, the Eagles cannot have enough solid blockers in the lineup.
Arizona Cardinals (No. 7)
The Cardinals started a pair of rookie offensive tackles (Nate Potter and Bobby Massie) in 2012, but neither player can rival the talent or athleticism of Joeckel. With Bruce Arians committed to pushing the ball down the field with a vertical passing attack, the presence of a standout left tackle could help the Cardinals' offense regain the explosiveness that has been missing in recent years.
(Quick aside: While it's unlikely a player of Joeckel's caliber slips out of the top 10, the next two teams certainly could use a left tackle, and a move up the board isn't necessarily out of the question.)
San Diego Chargers (No. 11)
It is not a coincidence that Philip Rivers' play has declined over the past two years behind the Chargers' underachieving offensive line. The team has failed to effectively replace Marcus McNeill at left tackle, and the sudden retirement of Kris Dielman has left Rivers vulnerable in the pocket. With new head coach Mike McCoy intent on resurrecting Rivers' career, the Chargers certainly will address the offensive line to ensure the Pro Bowler is able to throw from a safe haven. While Joeckel's presence wouldn't address all of the Chargers' issues, it would fill the team's biggest need and help Rivers get back on track in 2013.
St. Louis Rams (No. 16)
Jeff Fisher has quickly turned the Rams into a competitive squad behind a gritty defense, but the team needs to become more explosive offensively to compete with the league's elite. To ignite the offense, Fisher needs to surround Sam Bradford with better protection in the pocket and more weapons on the perimeter. Joeckel would solidify Bradford's blind side, and his presence would give offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer more confidence to take shots down the field.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks