For as long as Luke Joeckel remains on the draft board in April, he’s likely to be seriously considered by whichever team happens to be on the clock.
The Chiefs, by virtue of holding the No. 1 overall pick, will have first crack at the standout Texas A&M offensive tackle. Joeckel finalized his plan Tuesday to enter the 2013 NFL Draft, according to multiple reports.
The 6-foot-6 Joeckel played a key role in Johnny Manziel’s sudden takeover of college football this season. Despite playing against elite SEC talent, week in and week out, Joeckel turned in a dominant 2012 and is considered to be, for now, the top available offensive lineman for the coming draft.
How strongly Kansas City leans toward Joeckel depends on a number of factors, not the least of which being Branden Albert’s pending free agency.
The Chiefs face the usual options with Albert set to hit the market: re-sign him, let him walk or slap the franchise tag on him. That third choice would cost the Chiefs just shy of $10 million, but it’s hard to see them allowing their starting left tackle to walk.
The variable that could push them toward that money-saving decision is Joeckel. If the Chiefs convince themselves in the coming couple of weeks that Joeckel is capable of filling Albert’s shoes, that swap may make sense for new head coach Andy Reid. Kansas City also might be intrigued by the prospect of Joeckel at left tackle and Albert at guard — the Chiefs need to address their interior line, too, now that guard Ryan Lilja has decided to retire.
Unfortunately for Reid and the Chiefs, the top of this year’s draft class does not have an obvious No. 1 pick — unlike the 2012 draft, where the Colts had their choice between Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. Given Kansas City’s obvious needs (quarterback, receiver and linebacker, for starters), that lack of a clear superstar has to be even more frustrating.
Which is why Joeckel has a shot to go No. 1, should Albert hit free agency and a huge K.C. roster hole suddenly meshes with the available draft talent.
Even if Joeckel slides past the Chiefs, though, he will find no shortage of teams interested in his talent — so much so, in a few cases, that the rest of the top 5 (Jacksonville, Oakland, Philadelphia and Detroit) might be able to swing a draft-day trade contingent on Joeckel’s availability.
But any of that quartet also could make a case for Joeckel early. Both the Jaguars and Raiders had huge issues at right tackle; the Eagles struggled all over their line (save for Evan Mathis), and are still awaiting Jason Peters’ return from an Achilles injury; and the Lions might be shorthanded, even with 2012 first-rounder Riley Reiff in tow, if Jeff Backus retires and Gosder Cherilus leaves in free agency.
All those teams will have to wait to see what the Chiefs do as a 2013 draft opener. Given Joeckel’s potential as an NFL lineman and the lack of elite prospects, a match could be made at No. 1 overall.