Even though the perception in recent years has been that offensive tackles, particularly on the left side, aren’t quite as valuable as they once were due to the influx of mobile quarterbacks, that doesn’t appear to be the case this time around. Two of the top five overall picks in just about every mock draft are Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel and Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher, with at least two more tackles projected to go in the first round.
Alabama’s D.J. Fluker and Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson are both rated almost as high as Fisher and Joeckel, with Florida State’s Menelik Watson not that far behind. All five of these players are very similar in size, especially in height (between 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-7) and share similar skill sets, so they could seem interchangeable to some. This is where the true art of scouting comes into play.
(In Alphabetical Order)
Eric Fisher had to deal with the expectations of his predecessor at Central Michigan, two-time Pro Bowler Joe Staley of the San Francisco 49ers, and shouldered them with relative ease. Not only does he resemble Staley in stature, but also his strengths are almost identical – long arms, solid punch, strong base and agile enough of foot to stay with quick ends in the passing game. Fisher impressed at the Senior Bowl, dominating top-flight defensive ends like Alex Okafor of Texas, and quickly emerged as the top contender to Joeckel for the honor of being the first tackle taken in this draft. His run blocking is fierce and if there is one area where he could use a little work it’s in dealing with smaller defenders because of his large frame. Fisher is as sure a bet to come out in the draft from his school since – well – Staley.
Clearly, the talent pool at Alabama is considerably deep when an athletic and imposing right tackle like D.J. Fluker has to take a back seat to one of his guards. Chance Warmak stole most of the headlines from Fluker and center Barrett Jones, but that doesn’t mean Fluker will be overlooked come April 25th. He is two inches shorter than Fisher but has a longer wingspan at 363/4 inches and is a dominant run blocker who also is very tough to move off the line in the passing game. Bull rushers are not very successful against him, but speed rushers that can elude him or recover from the first punch can cause him problems. A groin injury kept Fluker out of the Senior Bowl but that doesn’t appear to have hurt his stock.
Luke Joeckel has been challenged of late by Fisher according to some of the draft experts, but he remains the most sure thing in this group if you look closely at his career, especially the last two years. He blocked for Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel last season after protecting current Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill the two previous seasons and both happen to fit the mobile mode to a “T.” Joeckel earned first-team All-American and All-SEC honors in the Aggies’ first year in the toughest conference in college football and is as technically sound as they come. He could become the first offensive tackle taken with the No. 1 overall pick since Michigan’s Jake Long went to the Dolphins in 2008, with the only knock on him being his upper and lower body strength. Extra time in the weight room will take care of that and he’ll be a good investment.
If ever there was a prospect that used the NFL Scouting Combine to his advantage it was Lane Johnson, a converted tight end who blew away scouts, coaches and general managers by running an eye-popping 4.72 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He didn’t stop there, turning in top performances in the vertical leap (34 inches), broad jump (9 feet, 8 inches), 3-cone drill (7.31 seconds) and 20-yard shuttle (4.52 seconds), and had Arkansas-Pine Bluff tackle Terron Armstead not run a 4.71 in his 40, Johnson would have had the record to himself. Johnson didn’t make the switch to the offensive line until his junior year in 2011 at right tackle and switched to left tackle as a senior, starting 11 of 13 games. His Combine performance coupled with a solid week at the Senior Bowl has Johnson positioned well for the draft.
Menelik Watson was the complete opposite of Johnson in Indianapolis, falling apart in nearly every drill and measurable, including the worst performance of any offensive lineman in the 3-cone drill (8.31 seconds). That could hurt him, unless enough teams see past that week and chalk it up to Watson being one of those athletes that simply doesn’t test well in shorts but is a difference maker on the field. He only played one season for the Seminoles after transferring from Saddleback Junior College and earned the starting right tackle job right away, despite having only discovered football after coming to the United States from Manchester, England. Watson is a raw talent, much like BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, but athletic enough to possibly convince the right coaching staff that theirs is the one that can polish this diamond in the rough into something special.
San Jose State