Luke Joeckel has emerged this season as one of the best offensive lineman in the country and one of the best overall prospects in this draft class. Joeckel’s combination of size, strength, flexibility, and technique complete an impressive package at the left tackle position. But how does he stack up to recent top tackle prospects?
Matt Kalil, 4th pick, 2012:
Kalil was an impressive physical specimen coming out of USC last year. He had ideal NFL size, and had performed well at a big name NFL factory. He was good enough to force 2010 top 10 pick Tyron Smith to play the right side of the line. I think Joeckel and Kalil are fairly similar as prospects. Kalil appeared a little bit stiff than Joeckel does, but his footwork was excellent. I think Joeckel could go right around the same spot and possibly even higher.
Tyron Smith, 9th pick, 2011:
Tyron Smith didn’t look like most tackles coming out of USC. It is not that he looked bad, it is more the fact that scouts are not used to seeing offensive lineman who look like they have been sculpted from granite. Smith had arms for days, was very athletic, and didn’t have much body fat to spare. Major questions surrounded his ability to play on the blind side considering he spent his career as a right tackle. He dominated on the right side his rookie year but has been a part of a struggling Dallas line since switching to the left side this year. Joeckel won’t have near the arm length of Smith, and obviously won’t have the musculature. However, Joeckel’s functional strength is better than Smith’s, and he has a much more firm grasp of the mental part of the game.
Trent Williams, 4th pick, 2010:
Trent Williams was somewhat of a surprise as the first tackle taken in this class. He spent his college career at right tackle but was considered quite the physical specimen. Okung was a much more proven and well-rounded tackle, but Williams looked like a prototypical left tackle for the Shanahan zone scheme. Williams was a top 5 pick more out of circumstance (I don’t think he would have gone that high had the Redskins/Shanahan not been picking there) than proven talent. Joeckel I think could be just as successful in the zone scheme while also being far better in a man scheme.
Russell Okung, 6th pick, 2010:
Okung’s talent has never really been in question. He had phenomenal technique at the position coming out and excellent functional strength and flexibility. Durability and injury concerns have been the only issues (and recently penalties) that seem to be holding back Okung up to this point. The repetitive leg injuries can be devastating for a tackle. Hindsight being 20/20 Joeckel doesn’t have those concerns, but I don’t know if he matches Okung’s technical prowess.
Jason Smith, 2nd pick, 2009
There really is no comparison here. I had no idea Smith was rated so highly. Yes, he was a very athletic tackle with ideal size, but that’s about where the positives ended.He never played out of a three point stance in college. He was a tight end before he was a tackle. He played in a far from pro-ready offense. He was older than the average rookie. This may sound like a hindsight evaluation, but it is not. I identify as a Rams fan and I recall pleading with my television for the Rams to not draft him. Smith isn’t in Joeckel’s league (figuratively and possibly literally since Jason Smith is a free agent at the end of the year and hasn’t managed to get any playing time on the Jet’s o-line).
Of the recent top offensive tackles drafted, I think Okung would be my top selection. His combination of ideal build, kick step, and excellent technique made him an excellent prospect despite the injury concerns that followed. Kalil was a close number two and I think Joeckel is right on par with him. They have a similar build (Joeckel is a bit thicker in the lower-body) and both have a great grasp of the mental side of the game. I think Joeckel might be a little better early on while Kalil might have some more long-term upside. Following that top three, I would have Tyron Smith, Trent Williams, a few miles of empty space, and then Jason Smith.