The Blind Side

The top ten of the 2013 NFL Draft is almost certain to be littered with offensive tackles – Oliver Gilmour studies the best two options; Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher.

Two left tackles, Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel, have been called the top two overall prospects in the draft by some, with Joeckel the favourite to be taken first overall by Kansas City. Fisher looks unlikely to fall out of the top five, with Philadelphia potentially wanting to bolster their offensive line for their new offense with their number four overall pick, or Detroit needing a new bookend after the retirement of Jeff Backus and the free agent departure of Gosder Cherilus.

Joeckel has been compared favourably with Cleveland Browns tackle Joe Thomas, who is characterised as a ‘finesse’ lineman. Joeckel fits this mold perfectly; a left tackle with outstanding technique in blocking, who has exceptional positioning and footwork. Fisher projects as a slightly less talented Matt Kalil, the fourth overall pick of the Minnesota  Vikings in 2012. He shares the aggressive tenacity of the younger Kalil.

Whilst Joeckel is widely regarded as the de-facto number one overall prospect, some scouts have argued the difference between the Texas A&M lineman and Fisher is far smaller than assumed. The main difference, as is often argued with regards to these two prospects, is the difference in competition. Fisher played against just two Big Ten opponents, Iowa and Michigan State, with the rest of the Central Michigan Chippewa schedule coming from the MAC. By contrast, Joeckel’s Texas A&M team played in the SEC, against such defences as Alabama, LSU and Florida. Joeckel also gets the plaudits from protecting the mercurial Johnny Manziel’s blindside during his Heisman campaign.

Joeckel has the credentials to be a top tier offensive tackle. Starting at left tackle since his true freshman year, he was All-Big 12 in 2011 and All-SEC in 2012, won the Outland Award in 2012 and was a First Team All-American in 2012. He will enter the NFL in 2013 without many weaknesses; he isn’t the perfect tackle already, but there are no glaring holes in his game. Fisher was voted Second Team All-American, but didn’t receive as many plaudits coming out of Central Michigan. His rise is mainly attributed to film study and closer analysis of his game, which pushed him from the mid-20th range to the top five, rather than the national star of Joeckel and the Aggies.

Both players look very good in pass protection from tape examination. Joeckel likely projects better in this facet however. On pass plays the Texas A&M prospect sets his position and establishes leverage on every play. Combine his excellent base and leverage with his foot speed and ability to adjust to outside rush and you have an excellent pass protector on the pro level. In all the tape I watched of him, he shows very little weakness even against top level talent. Eric Fisher on the other hand is very good, but not quite as good as Joeckel. He has the strong base of Joeckel without the ability to maintain it while sliding. He has good athletic ability, running a better 40 yard dash than his Texan counterpart, which allows him to recover well regardless. Both players my need to adjust their hands against bullrushing outside rushers, as both have been shown to be driven backwards by bigger pass-rushers which will be more common in the professional game.  In this aspect Joeckel will likely be better adapted from Week One with his great base and lateral movement.

In the run game, both are good, but in different ways. Joeckel is a more technical blocker, getting into good position and sealing off his man. He uses his foot speed to get into correct position to pin his man and create room for the back. By contrast, Fisher is aggressive, rushing out to hit assignments to create room for runners. His confrontational, power-based style may fit certain schemes, but his ‘rushing’ style occasionally means he misses blocks. His athleticism means he can get to the second level well, and his powerful base means he can drive tacklers backwards on run plays. Joeckel’s play in the run game makes him quite versatile, and he looks as though he will succeed in any scheme (likely thriving in zone blocking). Fisher is more limited in this sense, but he is by no means weak in any facet of run blocking. Neither has the rare speed in a left tackle of Lane Johnson, but both have great footwork and foot speed that get them to the second level and into open space.

Whilst Joeckel and Fisher are a natural comparison due to them sharing a position, they are very different players who have different strengths. The main strength of Luke Joeckel is his experience in top-level competition and his positioning and technical ability, whilst Eric Fisher possesses power, athleticism, and aggressiveness. They fit different schemes, but I would grade Joeckel overall higher because his skills are so polished and adaptable.

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