The following is the fifth of eight position previews in advance of the April 25-27 NFL Draft. The previews will resume April 22 following next week's minicamp.
This year's draft features a strong crop of offensive linemen led by Texas A&M tackle Luke Joeckel, who many NFL analysts believe could be the top overall pick.
Since 1968, only two offensive linemen have been selected No. 1: Tackles Orlando Pace by the Rams in 1997 and Jake Long by the Dolphins in 2008.
ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. is predicting that six offensive linemen will be among the top 12 picks in the draft: Joeckel first to the Chiefs, Central Michigan tackle Eric Fisher seventh to the Cardinals, North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper eighth to the Bills, Alabama guard Chance Warmack 10th to the Titans, Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson 11th to the Chargers and Alabama tackle D.J. Fluker 12th to the Dolphins.
Joeckel started all 13 games for Texas A&M each of the last three seasons. Last year the 6-6, 306-pounder won the Outland Trophy as the nation's best interior linemen while protecting the blindside of quarterback Johnny Manziel, the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.
Pro Football Weekly's 2013 Draft Preview describes Joeckel as "a dependable, highly skilled, pass-blocking technician" who "grades out as well as anyone in this year's draft class and has a rare makeup that will drive him to be successful."
|Potential No. 1 pick Luke Joeckel speaks to the media at the NFL Combine in February.|
Kiper is just as impressed, writing that "the tape does the talking. At his best, has the ability to just swallow up all kinds of pass-rushers, particularly those who try to beat him off the edge. He can really drive people in the run game, even if he gets questions on whether he's a big finisher there."
Fisher was a three-year starter and four-year contributor at Central Michigan whose draft stock was buoyed by strong performances at the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine.
PFW predicts that the 6-7, 306-pounder will be an immediate starter and a 10-year pro, describing him as a "very confident, highly competitive, athletic left tackle who plays with a small-school chip on his shoulder and looks to bury defenders in the dirt."
Cooper was a four-year starter at North Carolina. PFW compares the 6-2, 311-pounder to Hall of Famers Randall McDaniel and Dermontti Dawson and labels him "a can't miss pick" who is "a fun-to-watch immediate impact starter and perennial Pro Bowl talent who could be dynamite in a zone-blocking scheme."
Warmack was a three-year starter and four-year contributor at Alabama, where the 6-2, 317-pounder helped the Crimson Tide win three national championships. PFW sees him as "one of the best guards to enter the NFL since John Hannah" and calls Warmack "a physical, difference-making power blocker" who is "an intimidating heavyweight with power, strength and explosion to become a perennial Pro Bowl performer."
Johnson was a quarterback and safety in high school who originally played tight end and later defensive end at Oklahoma before shifting to offensive tackle. Kiper writes that the 6-6, 303-pounder "has the long arms you look for, can absorb rushers, and gets a decent push in the run game but can get out and use his athleticism downfield and on the edges."
Fluker was a three-year starter at Alabama. PFW calls the 6-5, 339-pounder a "massive imposing specimen with girth and wingspan that rate as exceptional even by NFL starter standards." The publication sees him as a mauling right tackle in the mold of the 49ers' Anthony Davis.
Other top offensive linemen in the draft include Arkansas Pine-Bluff tackle Terron Armstead, Colorado tackle David Bakhtiari, Wisconsin center Travis Frederick, Oregon guard Kyle Long, Syracuse tackle Justin Pugh, California center Brian Schwenke, Kentucky guard Larry Warford, Florida State tackle Menelik Watson and Kent State tackle Brian Winters.