Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel has been projected to be a top-five pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
The 6-foot-6, 310-pound winner of the Outland Trophy officially announced on Tuesday that he is bypassing his senior season and declaring for early entry into the 2013 NFL draft. Many projections have Joeckel going in the top five selections, and some even have him going first overall. He's the consensus top tackle on the draft board.
With the Jan. 15 deadline to declare approaching, only right tackle Jake Matthews remains among those highly-regarded draft-eligible A&M juniors who haven't officially announced a decision. Defensive end Damontre Moore declared before the AT&T Cotton Bowl that he's entering the draft.
Joeckel's loss is significant because he was a stalwart at left tackle. He was stellar in pass protection and solid in run blocking as well. All the reasons scouts like him as a potential NFL player are why he was an asset to the Aggies this season. He was durable and reliable. Scouts Inc.'s Kevin Weidl described Joeckel as having excellent footwork and awareness and called him a "smooth mover" who "adjusts well in space."
If Matthews is to stay -- and there's some speculation that he will, with one of his teammates tweeting recently that Matthews will stay -- that will soften the blow of Joeckel's departure.
Should the 6-5, 305-pound Matthews remain for his senior season, he could be a candidate to move over to Joeckel's left tackle spot. Matthews started at right tackle and was equally dominant at his position as Joeckel was on the left side.
If Matthews were to also declare for the draft, then the Aggies could potentially be going into next season with some young players at the tackle spots. True freshman Germain Ifedi was listed as Joeckel's backup at left tackle this season, and the 6-5, 338-pound tackle from Houston/Westside could be a viable option to fill the void left by Joeckel. There's also the possibility of moving someone like 6-5, 295 right guard Cedric Ogbuehi, a veteran who started all 13 games as a sophomore this year, over to the left tackle position.
Redshirt freshman Joseph Cheek (6-7, 300) backed up Matthews this year and also saw time in the Aggies' "unbalanced line" short-yardage package when the team used three tackles. The Seguin, Texas, product would be one to watch as well. Kimo Tipoti (6-3, 330) was also a part of Ifedi's recruiting class, though is likely more of a fit at guard. Another option to look at is redshirt freshman Nate Gutekunst, who saw some action this season.
There are also some young tackles coming into the program from the 2013 recruiting class. City College of San Francisco tackle Jeremiah Stuckey is already signed and will enroll in classes next week. The 6-6, 280-pounder will have four years to play three and has played in a spread offense. In addition to Stuckey, two true freshmen from the Dallas area, Dallas Jesuit's J.J. Gustafson (6-5, 260) and Dallas Bishop Dunne's Ishmael Wilson (6-5, 292) will also be joining the roster next fall.
As coach Kevin Sumlin said before the season, the offensive line could be considered the strength in the Aggies' program. The cupboard isn't bare with Joeckel leaving, and they have options to help soften the blow. If Matthews stays, those options increase.