The NFL Scouting Combine can be a make-or-break event for many players' draft stock. Sometimes, it is just another workout. That’s exactly how Luke Joeckel’s mediocre display should be viewed.
For several months, Joeckel has been widely regarded as one of the premier prospects in this draft class. He has the talent to justify that distinction, and an average performance at the combine won’t change that.
The Texas A&M product didn’t set fire to Lucas Oil Stadium when he took the field for drills. With a 5.30-second 40-yard dash and a 27-rep bench press display, NFL talent evaluators got a little less than they probably would have expected from Joeckel.
Too much stock is placed in straight-line speed, though, especially at the offensive line positions. Joeckel’s 20-yard shuttle time ,at 4.68 seconds, was better than that of 32 other participating offensive linemen. He recorded the fourth-best time in the three-cone drill, and his 8'10" broad jump tally was well above the average for the position.
What do those numbers mean for his draft stock? Next to nothing.
Joeckel didn’t amaze anyone with a tremendous performance in Indianapolis, but that doesn’t detract from his on-field accomplishments in his career at Texas A&M. The tape tells the whole tale. Joeckel is still the premier left tackle in this draft class and a few below-average numbers won’t change that.
In his pro potential projection video, Bleacher Report NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller cites Joeckel’s “balance and quickness” as two things that really stood out when evaluating him. He considers Joeckel the best prospect in this draft class and doesn’t consider Joeckel’s 40-yard dash something anyone should be concerned about.
Via Miller's Twitter account:
Matt Miller @nfldraftscout
Very surprised at the number of people talking down Joeckel and talking up Lane Johnson over 40 times. Tape doesn't lie.2013-2-23 17:29:37
Matt Miller @nfldraftscout
Watching Luke Joeckel's kick-step and shuffle. That's where his athletic ability shows. That's what matters.2013-2-23 17:56:41
There’s more to evaluating prospects than stats, measurables and numbers—or even how the experts read into them. Joeckel proved his talent by playing like the best tackle in the nation in 2012.
The Aggies’ 2012 contest against Mississippi State (shown above) was just one of 37 such games in which Joeckel started. One game doesn’t tell the whole story, but there are some things to take away from his performance in that contest.
While not an elite run blocker, Joeckel showed he can effectively move defensive linemen off the line of scrimmage, especially in a zone blocking scheme (see the 2:10 mark of the video). He does tend to rely on chop blocking too much on the backside of plays, but his quick feet make him a sound second-level blocker—that won’t change at the NFL level.
The quickness and footwork Joeckel showed in that game isn’t what evaluators saw in Indianapolis. Timed drills don’t entirely reflect a player’s on-field ability, and a fast 40-yard dash time means nothing when banging pads with opposing defenders.
Far too much is made of times, statistics and numbers. There is certainly a place for them in the evaluation process, but what a prospect does on the field shouldn’t be overshadowed by what he does when faced with a stopwatch.
There are many, many examples of how little correlation there can be between times and production. Jerry Rice ran a mid-4.6-second 40-yard dash at the combine in 1985. Darnell Dockett put up 26 reps on the bench press in 2004, one less than Joeckel this year. Both were first-round picks. Three-time All-Pro selection Michael Roos also ran a 5.30 in 2005 but only tallied 19 reps on the bench press.
The overreaction to Joeckel’s combine performance will die down in time. By April, few will consider Eric Fisher or Lane Johnson better prospects at the position.
For top college players, the expectation to astonish at the combine is often what leads to negative expectations going forward.
Joeckel didn’t astonish anyone with a spectacular workout or impressive times, but he did enough to give everyone a reason to go back to the tape and ultimately take spot in April's draft.
*All historical combine data acquired from NFLCombineResults.com.