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Picking 1st: The Case Against Luke Joeckel


Last week, I laid out why I think it would be a mistake for the Chiefs to select DT Star Lotulelei with their first pick. This week, it’s Joeckel’s turn.

There’s probably no player more frequently mocked to the Chiefs than LT Luke Joeckel, but there are a lot of problems with that pick.

Still, let’s start with the good:

He’s a blue chip player at a blue chip position and if the Chiefs don’t re-sign Brandon Albert, it’s a need position for the Chiefs as well.

By almost all accounts he is one of the top three prospects in this draft. Left tackles with the natural ability and prototypical size that he has do not grow on trees. In a year of iffy quarterback prospects, tackles also tend to be safer picks and he’ll be cheaper than retaining Albert’s services most likely.

He has no injury concerns and held his own against some of college football’s best pass rushers in the SEC. All around, he is a low-risk pick and could be the best LT in all of football with some development.

So why not take him?

First off, while there is an overall lower bust rate for tackles in the top of the draft, they’re not a sure bet either. Of the eight tackles taken in the top ten since 2008, all but two are currently rated by Scouts Inc. as just “good starters,” which they describe as a “Solid starter who is close to being an outstanding player … Has few weaknesses and will usually win his individual matchup but does not dominate in every game, especially when matched up against the top players in the league.”

That’s not exactly an inspiring result for a 1st overall pick. If you pick in the top five, you should be landing a guy that is a star in the league for years, not a guy who is merely better than average.

Brandon Albert, on the other hand, is rated as an “outstanding player” by Scouts Inc., which they describe as, “Player has abilities to create mismatches versus most opponents in the NFL … A feature player who has an impact on the outcome of the game … Cannot be shut down by a single player and plays on a consistent level week-in and week-out.”

In other words, if the past five years of drafts are any indication, the Chiefs have essentially a one in four chance of drafting a tackle as good as Brandon Albert. In fact, Brandon Albert is probably one of the most under-rated players on the Chiefs roster. He was ranked the 7th best left tackle in pass protection by Pro Football Focus in 2012 giving up just one sack throughout the season, and Jamaal Charles ran his best when going wide left behind Albert last year. At the final tally, he averaged 8.1 yards for 459 total, gaining roughly a third of his total yards and three of his five touchdowns that way – including that miracle sprint that won us the Saints game.

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

But looking at Joeckel himself as a prospect, he is also far from perfect. Going back to the Scouts Inc. grades, the only thing he is rated as “exceptional” in is “awareness.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that he’s a smart football player, but I also get a bit antsy about prospects other than quarterbacks whose primary accolade is that they have veteran awareness, because that is ideally the area where they will improve the most once they get to the NFL. Most players do not fundamentally change their bodies and physical tools once they get to the pros, because there’s only so much more you can do when you’re built like these guys are.

In their grades on both his pass protection and run blocking, Scouts Inc. notes he lacks “power in punch” and “initial pop,” noting he doesn’t always drive defenders off the line, but is usually able to make up for his lack of strength with good reactions. While I imagine he can bulk up some, if he’s getting outmuscled in college, he’s going to get straight up beaten in the NFL. Plus, if his awareness is already topped out, he may have peaked already.

The last team to pick a left tackle 1st overall was the Miami Dolphins in 2008. They had a similar plan to the one that is very popular in the comment section – they got their franchise LT in Jake Long with their first overall pick and then snagged a falling QB prospect in the 2nd round – Chad Henne. In fact, there are lot of similarities between the 2012 Chiefs and the Dolphins going into the 2008 Draft. They too had a solid defense and a team with good veteran pieces in place. So how did it go?

What occurred was the greatest single-season turnaround in NFL history as they improved from 1-15 in 2007 to 11-5 in 2008, winning the Tom Brady-less AFC East and going to the playoffs. But, it didn’t last.

Still running with free-agent-signing Chad Pennington at quarterback, the Dolphins turned stale as their game plan of short, accurate passing with Pennington stopped working. Teams also started figuring out the wildcat formation and when Pennington got injured, the team was forced to confront the fact that Henne was something less than a starting quality QB. He finished the season with 12 TD’s, 14 INT’s and a QBR of 51.3.

Three picks after they grabbed Jake Long, the Falcons drafted QB Matt Ryan. Since the 2008 draft, the Falcons’ regular season record is 56-24. The Dolphins have gone 38-42 and haven’t been back to the playoffs since 2008. Meanwhile, Jake Long has ended up being a solid player but has had so many injury problems that the team plans to let him walk on the free market this offseason.

At this stage of the process, the chattering consensus is that it would be a reach for the Chiefs to take any quarterback at #1, however there’s also no guarantee that they will be able to take one of the top two quarterback prospects at all if they wait to try and jump into the back of the 1st round or take whatever is left in round two. Free agent options are uninspiring to say the least.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs have a left tackle that they could re-sign who is better than 75% of the tackles taken in the top 10 of the 1st round in the last five years.

The Chiefs need to decide if they want to be the Dolphins or the Falcons, whether they want to take a chance to fundamentally change this team, or whether they want to play the best card we have this offseason to fill a hole that we’d be making ourselves.

For me the choice is simple, don’t draft Joeckel if you want to take a big step forward.