The star wattage might be lacking in this NFL draft class, without marquee quarterbacks in position to be selected in the top few picks. Many experts say the strength of this draft is in the depth of talent that will be available through the middle rounds, not in eye-catching players at the top.
But what this class does have is highly regarded offensive linemen, and the draft’s early stages could be dominated by them. It’s possible that three offensive tackles — Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M, Eric Fisher of Central Michigan and Lane Johnson of Oklahoma — could be chosen in the draft’s top 10 selections.
“I think Joeckel is a top-five guy in any year,” said Charley Casserly, the former general manager of the Washington Redskins and Houston Texans. “Fisher is a guy that’s warranted going in the top 10. Lane Johnson, to me, is more of a middle of the first round type guy who’s getting pushed up because of need. But those three guys are all pretty good. They would be good in any year, in any draft.”
At least one other offensive tackle, D.J. Fluker of Alabama, is widely projected to be a first-round pick. Two guards, Alabama’s Chance Warmack and North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper, appear likely to be first-round selections as well.
The high-caliber talent at offensive line doesn’t benefit the Redskins. They don’t have a first-round choice, thanks to last year’s trade with the St. Louis Rams to move up in the draft order to select quarterback Robert Griffin III, and they kept last season’s starting offensive line intact by re-signing guard Kory Lichtensteiger and right tackle Tyler Polumbus in free agency.
There has been some speculation that the Redskins could use a pick in this draft on a right tackle. But they signed two veterans in free agency, Tony Pashos and Jeremy Trueblood, to vie with Polumbus for playing time. The Redskins used a third-round pick in last year’s draft on an offensive lineman by selecting guard and center Josh LeRibeus.
But even if the Redskins aren’t the beneficiaries, the expected first-round run on offensive linemen could be one of the draft’s main storylines. The draft’s top overall selection by the Kansas City Chiefs could come down to a choice between Joeckel and Fisher.
“I am definitely striving to be the number one pick, going through this entire process and playing this season and all that kind of stuff,” Joeckel said at the NFL scouting combine. “But my dream is to just play in the NFL. I know being the number one pick, after that, it doesn’t really matter. You’ve got to go prove yourself in the NFL. . . . It’s cool and everything. But going to any team I go to, proving myself there will be the biggest thing.”
Joeckel played in the considerable shadow last season of his Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Johnny Manziel. But he won the Outland Trophy and established himself as a certain early first-round pick, announcing in January that he would bypass his final season of college eligibility.
“Definitely coming into this thing, I wanted to be the first tackle taken in the draft,” Joeckel said at the combine. “Now I know it’s a long process until then. I’m trying to do every single thing right to make sure that happens. . . . It’s a good type of competition between all of us.”
Fisher also acknowledged the competition, saying at the combine: “I’m working to be the number one tackle. That’s not up to me in the end. That’s up to coaches and general managers, but that’s what I’m working for.”
The spotlight on Fisher was not as bright in college, playing at Central Michigan.
“In high school, I was a 230-pound offensive tackle,” he said. “I didn’t really go around the country selling myself to every college team out there. Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan were my only two [scholarship] offers, and I went with Central Michigan and never looked back. I loved the program and atmosphere when I was being recruited, loved the coaching staff at the time and, like I said, never looked back and I’m very happy with my time there.”
Johnson was a quarterback in high school; he said he weighed around 220 pounds at the time. He switched to tight end in junior college. He moved on to Oklahoma and, at 280 pounds, began playing defensive end as well as tight end. When the Sooners had a need at right tackle, Coach Bob Stoops asked Johnson if he wanted to try the position.
“I told him no at first,” Johnson said at the combine. “Then in one of the pass-rush drills, they switched me there and I’ve been stuck there ever since. I thought he was joking or lying to me at first. I didn’t really believe him. After I found out he was serious, I took it a little bit more into consideration.”
Now Johnson, who was moved to left tackle last season and now is listed at 6 feet 6 and 303 pounds, is one of the more intriguing players in the entire draft.
“I feel right at home now,” Johnson said. “I’ve kind of grown into my body. I’ve kind of got the mental aspect of I’m going to be like this for the next 10 or 12 years. It fits perfect now.”
Maske’s top 10:
|1||T Luke Joeckel||Texas A&M||6-6||306||1|
|2||T Eric Fisher||Central Michigan||6-7||306||1|
|3||T Lane Johnson||Oklahoma||6-6||303||1|
|4||G Chance Warmack||Alabama||6-2||317||1|
|5||T D.J. Fluker||Alabama||6-5||339||1|
|6||G Jonathan Cooper||North Carolina||6-2||311||1|
|7||T Menelik Watson||Florida State||6-5||310||1-2|
|8||G Larry Warford||Kentucky||6-3||332||1-2|
|9||T Justin Pugh||Syracuse||6-4||307||2|
|10||T-G Dallas Thomas||Tennessee||6-5||300||2|
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