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An unexpected celebration of Luke Joeckel

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Chargers Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Regardless of the fact that Eric Fisher was drafted ahead of him, it’s hard to find a better offensive tackle prospect than Luke Joeckel was in 2013. Regardless of the fact that the 2013 draft class will go down as one of the worst ever and top overall pick Fisher has been serviceable at best, Joeckel could still have a serviceable career ahead of him. Maybe even ... a few really good seasons.

The Seattle Seahawks don’t need Joeckel to live up to his potential, because his potential was sky high and he’s probably never going to be more than “amateur drone flying high” anyway, but they could definitely use the version of Joeckel we’ve seen so far. It’s unfortunate that keeping him around for longer than a season could prove difficult.

First I wanna go back to how good of a prospect he once was.

Joeckel was born in Arlington, Texas and went to Arlington High School, where he became an All-State lineman in a state known for beefy, jocky, “Billy Bob” football stars. To get an idea for how athletic he was, right down to his genes, consider that his twin brother Matt Joeckel was the team’s quarterback. I’d like to imagine that every once in awhile the duo pulled a Mary Kate & Ashley and switched around to fool defenses, even if it meant putting an offensive tackle at QB and the QB at offensive tackle.

Look, I wasn’t the coach but for much of their youth their dad was, and surely it would’ve been fun for all involved.

Coming out of high school, Joeckel was rated as the number five OT in the country behind Seantrel Henderson, Rob Crisp, Shon Coleman, and James Hurst. To this day, Joeckel is still the most accomplished of the five, though that’s not saying much. It’s not saying anything actually more than he’s had a couple of seasons as an NFL starter, actually. Or even one season as a starter would do it.

Joeckel wasted no time becoming a starter at Texas A&M, where he chose to attend instead of his Texas Tech (his dad’s alma mater) because of head coach Mike Sherman’s experience with offensive linemen. In his final two years at A&M, Sherman recruited Joeckel, Jake Matthews, and Cedric Ogbuehi, the first three Aggies offensive linemen drafted in the first round since Richmond Webb in 1990.

As a true freshman, Joeckel started all 13 games at left tackle for A&M, winning Freshman All-American honors. He also started every game at left tackle as a sophomore and junior, giving him a perfect 39-for-39 in starts during his three seasons of college football. He blocked for quarterbacks Ryan Tannehill and Johnny Manziel, both of whom were first round picks, the latter of whom won the Heisman as a freshman with Joeckel as his blindside protector. He also paved the way for Christine Michael to score 24 touchdowns in those three seasons, though the pair were not reunited in Seattle. Thankfully. Cyrus Gray had two 1,000-yard seasons behind Joeckel’s offensive line.

As a junior, Joeckel won the Outland Trophy, given to the nation’s top interior lineman. One anonymous GM reportedly said he was “better than Joe Thomas.” Which was a stupid thing to say regardless, but still a sign of how stacked the deck was in Joeckel’s favor.

A top high school recruit, a starter from out the gate, a freshman All-American, a protector to two notable quarterbacks, and the leader of an offense line that consistently churned out big gains on the ground. Now the NFL Scouting Combine was up next.

At the 2013 combine, Joeckel measured as such: 6’6, 306 lbs, 34.25” arms, 5.25 in the 40-yard dash, 1.83 in the 10-yard split, 7.4 in the three-cone drill, 28.5” vertical, 106” broad jump, 27 reps on the bench.

A few recent draft prospects who compare favorably to him in size and athleticism include Taylor Decker, La’El Collins, and Zack Martin. However, what really stands out is the 7.40 in the three-cone drill.

Here is every offensive tackle prospect since 2010 to run a sub-7.45 in the three-cone drill:

2010 - Jared Veldheer, Rodger Saffold

2011 - Anthony Castonzo, Derek Sherrod, Nate Solder

2012 - Matt Kalil, Brandon Mosley

2013 - Joeckel, Lane Johnson, Braden Brown

2014 - Jake Matthews, Joel Bitonio, Taylor Lewan, Ja’Waun James, Wesley Johnson

2015 - Jake Fisher

2016 - Tyler Johnstone

Truly a few of these people do not stand out, but this list also includes some of better linemen in the NFL, like Veldheer, Castonzo, Solder, Johnson, Matthews, Bitonio, and Lewan.

If a number is holding him back at all, it’s the 1.83 in the 10-yard split, which is still very good, but not at the elite level like we recently saw from Garett Bolles (1.71), Forrest Lamp (1.75), or even Cam Robinson (1.78). Still, Joeckel’s combine performance was notable for good reasons (including those massive arms) and backed up with his college resume, made him one of the few prospects in the 2013 draft who would have made teams comfortable with using a high draft pick on him.

Despite months of speculation that Joeckel would be the number one pick, the Kansas City Chiefs opted for Fisher instead. Which wasn’t really a sleight on Joeckel, just an indication that Fisher was also highly regarded by teams and it really just came down to personal preference. Joeckel went to the Jacksonville Jaguars instead, the first pick of new head coach Gus Bradley.

In bringing in Joeckel, the team had a number of key changes on the offensive line.

First, Brad Meester retired after having spent the previous 14 seasons on the team’s line, mostly at center. Next, Bradley hired George Yarno to be the offensive line coach. Yarno, who played and coached at Washington State, didn’t have a lot of successful experiences; he was let go by the Detroit Lions just before he was retained by Jacksonville, and the Lions were among the worst offenses in the NFL, especially in the run game. He also worked with veteran offensive linemen during almost all of his tenure with the team and wasn’t tasked with developing many of these players other than Jason Fox (a fourth rounder who barely played under Yarno) and Riley Reiff, who Yarno only had as a rookie, Reiff’s worst season in the NFL.

(Yarno was diagnosed with cancer in 2014 and officially left the team in 2015, when he was replaced by now-head coach Doug Marrone, then sadly passed away in Spokane a year and a half later.)

Finally, the Jaguars traded starting left tackle Eugene Monroe four games into the season, placing Joeckel back at his natural position after a month on the right side. In his first game without Monroe, Joeckel injured his ankle and missed the rest of 2013. There goes 11 games of much-needed experience, his first time away from the field in years, if ever.

When he returned in 2014, Joeckel was clearly not the same. He was credited with allowing eight sacks (almost as many as Walter Jones allowed in his career) and was often cited as one of the worst pass blockers in the NFL at the time. The Jags went 3-13 and finished dead last in points and net yards per pass attempt. Plenty of that falls on Blake Bortles, but Joeckel and the rest of the offensive line weren’t helping.

In 2015, Joeckel started 14 games at left tackle and was starting to get some praise from our JAX sister site Big Cat Country:

Luke Joeckel had the best season of his career at left tackle. He played steadily for most of the first 15 games, but then he had an absolute meltdown and played the worst game of his career in the final game against the Houston Texans. That kind of sums up Luke's career to date. Looks good for a bit but then looks horrendous out of nowhere.

In that last game against the Texans, in which the Jags lost 30-6, Bortles was sacked eight times, and the offense carried it 14 times for 32 yards. J.J. Watt got three of those sacks, while Whitney Mercilus had 3.5. To be fair, if Joeckel’s biggest problem is blocking prime J.J. Watt, I’ll take that for the Seahawks. Especially now that he’s not tasked with blocking J.J. Watt or any edge rusher.

Last season, the team announced they’d not be picking up Joeckel’s fifth-year option, and then just before the first game, moved Joeckel to left guard. He played four games there and then seriously hurt his knee in a London game against the Indianapolis Colts, ending his 2016 season. His four-game review by BCC was better than nothing:

“Luke Joeckel wasn’t the disappointment we expected at left guard.”

By not picking up his option and letting him hit free agency, Joeckel was able to sign a one-year, $8 million deal with Seattle. Compared to the contracts of Russell Okung, Matt Kalil, Riley Reiff, and so on, it was a steal of commitment; the Seahawks only have to pay Joeckel for one season and so if he stinks or he gets hurt again, they aren’t on the hook for anything in 2018.

That being said, if Joeckel is good, then they’ll have to make the long-term commitment either way. There aren’t many scenarios I can think of where the Joeckel signing helps Seattle after this season, not without a hefty price. But let’s focus on now because that’s all we have anyway.

So far, Joeckel and Justin Britt have been the steadying forces on the Seahawks offensive line that they’ve so desperately missed since losing Max Unger, James Carpenter, and Okung. Not that any of them were especially healthy or consistently reliable (Unger consistent but not healthy all the time), but the line has been a hazard over the last two seasons without players of high quality. It turned out that Britt was a high quality center once he was moved there, but we always knew that Joeckel was an exceptional talent.

It was just a matter of him putting it on the field for 16 games, and now when you look at the context of his NFL career, it’s easier to understand why that hasn’t happened:

  • He came into a situation in Jacksonville that had a lot of moving parts, including a new GM, head coach, offensive line coach, missing piece at center that had held things together for so long, and then a move from left tackle to right tackle and then back to left tackle.
  • Getting almost no experience as a pro left tackle from the time he was drafted until the start of his second season, a period of about 18 months. Consider that so many of those first-year practices and exhibition games came on the right side.
  • A poor year at left tackle that was really his rookie season, protecting the worst QB in the NFL.
  • A decent year at left tackle, but not quite good enough for the team to hesitate on signing Kelvin Beachum to push him for the job, then losing the job to a pretty good left tackle.
  • A move to left guard that was going well before his injury.

Joeckel is now the Seahawks left guard and things are going well. The players around Joeckel, including Germain Ifedi, who went to A&M right after him and surely saw him as a role model, seem to hold him in high regard.

Britt said following Friday’s win over the Chiefs (and Fisher) that their confidence was “skyrocketing” despite having to replace George Fant with Rees Odhiambo. That’s probably because Odhiambo played quite well that day, and that probably has plenty to do with the fact that he has someone like Joeckel to his right. Someone who isn’t just going to help him get the job done (most of the time) but also will give advice based on four-plus years of NFL experience and three years of top-level college experience.

A guy who has been praised almost as much as he’s been pummeled.

Joeckel came at a high one-year cost (only two left guards are making more than him this season) for a reason and it’s not just because he was the second overall pick. It’s because why he was the second overall pick. He was an incredible prospect.

He may still become an incredible NFL guard.