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Differentiating The Top Offensive Tackles In The 2013 NFL Draft Class

Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher, and Lane Johnson. Three extremely talented players and excel at their position, but what exactly separates them from the rest, and each other?

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Eric Fisher, Offensive Tackle, Central Michigan
Eric Fisher, Offensive Tackle, Central Michigan
Tim Fitzgerald, CMU Athletics

To many draftnik's out there, the 2013 NFL draft class is the year of the offensive line, with as many as five elite prospects could go within the first ten picks of the draft, including three offensive tackles. Consensus number one prospect Luke Joeckel from Texas A&M, Senior Bowl star Eric Fisher from Central Michigan, and late riser Lane Johnson out of Oklahoma. Let's take an individual look at each prospect.

Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M

Since the start of the offseason, it's been a common theme among draft chatter that Luke Joeckel is the over-riding number one prospect, and should be the first player taken, and is projected to be drafted first overall to the Kansas City Chiefs.

He excels in a number of areas needed in an elite offensive tackle, such as his great mirror ability in pass protection. His quick feet and above average athleticism allows him to set himself quicker than most in protection, create a solid foundation and push out of his stance. He reacts very well to defensive scheme shifts, and dynamic moves from edge rushers, and has the agility to compete against stunts and blitzes from the opposition. He allows himself the leeway against rushers for him to react well, while in the process leaving him open to being cut inside leaving a direct route into the backfield. He plays his initial block well but often gives up on blocking once the ball carrier leaves the pocket, quarterback or running back, which leaves them open to being caught from behind. He needs to finish every block well, and play until the ball is safely away.

Excels more in pass protection than he does in run blocking, however, Joeckel does a more than adequate job of setting his feet and sustaining blocks long enough to open lanes for runners. Not having elite strength is a problem for Joeckel, often finding himself over-powered and forced into the backfield, this would need to be addressed. His initial punch in pass protection is often limp and easily countered, putting himself in poor stead, but he recovers well the majority of the time, his lateral agility comes to his aid, being able to move in transition with relative ease is a big plus. His sub-par explosion means he is more suited to a zone-blocking scheme at the next level, but Joeckel should learn and excel in whatever system he is asked to play in. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr stated during Wednesday's Conference Call that he expects Joeckel to be selected number one overall.

I think Luke Joeckel would go number one overall [in the draft].

- Mel Kiper Jr

Video Courtesy of Draft Breakdown.

Eric Fisher, Central Michigan

Was always recognised as one of the top offensive tackle prospects in the 2013 NFL draft, Fisher only really came to the forefront of public attention whilst at the Senior Bowl, where he blew up during training and in the game itself. The star performer, and is now being mentioned in discussions for the number one overall pick. With Joeckel and Fisher, it is really 1A and 1B in terms of talent, it's hard to separate them in terms of talent, and you'll draft a franchise offensive tackle for the next decade either way.

Fisher stands at 6' 7", 305 pounds, some say he still has room to grow and bulk out that frame of his. Not the most athletically gifted left tackle, but its smooth in transitions and covers ground quickly to account for the speed rush. He can cover a large area, making it much harder to be beaten outside, and does not have the flaw that Joeckel has, in over-playing that rush, allowing a lane inside, Fisher measures himself well against the rush, generally positions himself in the best place possible to make the block, and that is on a consistent basis.

In run blocking, Fisher dominates when he correctly places his hands on the defender. He can be erratic in hand placement, which would need to be coached out on him and be much more consistent like his body positioning. He has greater upper body strength than Joeckel, and really powers his defender out of the way creating a big lane for runners. He does a ice job of pulling and moving onto the second level, and he has the speed to be a lead blocker. Technically speaking, I would say he shades it over Joeckel, and is a slightly better athlete and has greater size and strength. He is my personal number one offensive tackle, and my number one overall prospect. Mel Kiper Jr also feel's Eric Fisher will be drafted highly later this month

Joeckel or Fisher, I think by five [in the draft], they’ll be gone.

- Mel Kiper Jr

Video Courtesy of Draft Breakdown.

Lane Johnson, Oklahoma

The consensus third overall offensive tackle prospect, Lane Johnson came to public attention through his outstanding combine performance. The former high school quarterback showed great athleticism during his drills and shined in a class full of excellent talent. However, his lack of experience in comparison to the aforementioned offensive tackle prospects means he is ranked slightly lower, but is still a top ten prospect in most eyes.

On the topic of Lane Johnson's athleticism, he recorded a 4.72 40-yard dash time, that is almost unheralded for an offensive tackle, and would have been the performance of the day, if it wasn't for small school prospect Terron Armstead out of Arkansas Pine-Bluff, who ran a 4.69! To put those times into perspective, one of the top wide receiver prospects in California's Keenan Allen only ran a 4.71 and a 4.75 in his 40-yard dash (Lane Johnson was also a top-5 performer in every measured drill/event for offensive lineman). Johnson excels because of his athleticism, easily covering ground and mirrors rushers well. He reaches the second level well and has the speed to run alongside the ball carrier and not hold them up, and makes blocks well on the run. He keeps his feet moving well, maintaining the block all the way through. His lack of experience makes him less consistent in his play, sometimes over-playing the rush, however, his elite level athleticism allows him to correct his errors before the damage is done.

His inconsistencies make him a little bit of a project left tackle in the league, who can easily slide over to right tackle (along with the other two prospects Fisher and Joeckel), but his upside and prosperity in the league, being able to be an athletic lead blocker on the second level, is worth taking the (relatively small) risk. He has the potential to become a top five offensive tackle in the NFL, and have a better career than Fisher/Joeckel because of his superior physical traits, its all about the coaching from here, he can have the inconsistencies removed from his game, he is the best of the group, without a doubt. ESPN's Mel Kiper also see's Johnson upside, and feel he will be taken early.

Lane Johnson is a top 10 guy.

Lane Johnson is solidly one of the top 11 players in the draft. I think he goes in the top seven right now.

- Mel Kiper Jr

Video Courtesy of Draft Breakdown.

Kiper indicates that Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson will all be selected by seven overall at the latest, which just so happens to be the Arizona Cardinals first selection in the draft. As we all know, our offensive line is horrendous, worst in the league according to Pro Football Focus' analysis. If I had my choice of prospects to select at seven overall, and all three of these guys were available, my choice would be Eric Fisher. Most polished left tackle in the draft. More experience than Lane Johnson and has above average physical traits for the position, and he is technically sound., but should one of them be available at seven, I would definitely consider them.

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