Sports

Texas A&M OT Luke Joeckel projects as NFL’s top pick

Luke Joeckel has never been one to take a back seat to anyone — including twin brother Matt — on the football field. It explains why Joeckel, a 6-foot-6-inch, 306-pound left tackle from Texas A&M, hopes his name will be the first announced by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell Thursday night as the top pick in the draft.

Projected by many to be the first pick, Joeckel, who left College Station after a stellar junior season that included All-Southeastern Conference and All-America honors, won’t have to wait long to learn his NFL fate.

“You look at everything, from the physical tools, to the mental ability, to the experience of 39 career starts — the last year in the SEC, the best competition you could face in the country — this guy has no major flaws,’’ said ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay. “I think he’s going to come off the board very quickly when you start to look at this year’s class.’’

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If he is selected by the Chiefs, who own the first pick, Joeckel would be happy making Arrowhead Stadium his professional home.

“Yeah, that would be awesome,’’ Joeckel said at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. “Definitely, that would be a cool place to go. I’ve been to Kansas City once before, and I loved the barbecue there.’’

Joeckel will have plenty to sink his teeth into if the Chiefs make him their top pick. Joeckel has had some late competition for the top pick from Central Michigan tackle Eric Fisher, who enjoyed an impressive Combine performance.

“Coming into this thing I wanted to be the first tackle taken in the draft,’’ Joeckel said. “I know it’s a competition between me and [Fisher] and, you know, [Oklahoma’s] Lane Johnson. It’s a good type of competition between all of us. That’s one of the fun parts about the Combine — the competition aspect of it, going against some of the best athletes at your position in the country.’’

According to B.J. Anderson, Texas A&M’s offensive line coach, Joeckel left no doubt about his status as “the best offensive lineman in college football.’’ That much was evident to Anderson well before the season, and well before he arrived at A&M from Houston.

“Well we recruited Luke when we were at the University of Houston,’’ Anderson said. “We had him and his brother Matt in for a visit down at U of H and, of course, offered both of them.

“We were extremely familiar with Luke’s skill set and how special of a guy he was. I was excited when I got to A&M, of course, because I knew what I had [in him]. I was excited to get my hands on him and to get to coaching him.’’

It came as no shock to Anderson when Joeckel and his bookend at right tackle, Jake Matthews, the son of NFL Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, pushed each other every day in practice and set “a real high standard of play and standard of preparation,’’ Anderson said.

“They prepared like NFL-caliber guys prepare,’’ Anderson said. “It helped the whole group. It helped the whole offensive line . . . They had the same approach as the pros when they were juniors in college, very thorough with the film evaluation and the opponent study.’’

Joeckel’s attention to detail and his technical acumen was apparent when he tangled against tough cats such as LSU defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery.

“SEC defensive lines are stout,’’ Joeckel 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 steppingstone to go to the NFL after playing against the top guys I played against this year, and I’m excited about that next step.’’

Although the Aggies shocked the nation by toppling No. 1 Alabama, 29-24, last Nov. 10, a momentous triumph that served as the launching point of Johnny Manziel’s Heisman Trophy campaign, Anderson believed Joeckel gained more notoriety by holding his own against Mingo and Montgomery in a 24-19 loss to LSU Oct. 20.

“He had a lot of good games, but any time you play people like LSU had with Mingo and Montgomery, defensive ends of that quality that get so much respect nationally, going out and being able to play well against those guys kind of proved to everybody what kind of player Luke was,’’ Anderson said.

That much was evident to NFL scouts from the body of work Joeckel put on film.

“He’s a guy that’s going to be able to come right in to the NFL and play immediately,’’ Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “You watch him on tape and you watch him on TV, and he’s a special guy. I know he went against a lot of good defensive ends in college and you see he’s up to the challenge.

“Again, he’s a very special player.’’

After the Aggies wrapped up their 11-2 season with a 41-13 victory over Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, Joeckel tested the waters and received a favorable draft grade from the NFL Players’ Association. His decision to leave was a no-brainer. He took out a full-page ad in the student newspaper to explain his decision and express his gratitude for the fans’ support.

“As soon as the year was over, I told him I would support him no matter what he did,’’ Anderson said. “I’m his biggest fan and I want what’s best for him. When he made his decision [to leave], I called him and congratulated him and told him I was excited for him and I was excited about going up to New York to be there when somebody picks him.’’

It wasn’t until his name began to surface as a possible top overall pick that Joeckel thought it would be possible to soar to such dizzying heights.

“It’s just crazy to think about,’’ Joeckel said. “Starting football in the second grade, you don’t really think about that kind of stuff. Football has been a huge part of my entire life. I actually love the game. Just getting to this point, this has been a dream come true.

“Just coming to play in the NFL, being in this situation [as the potential No. 1 overall pick] is just . . . I can’t even imagine it.’’

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