It's obvious that Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel are the best two offensive tackles in the 2013 NFL draft, and explaining why will be easy. It's deciding who's better that's going to be tough.
Let's start with the first question; the easy question. Why are these two the best?
Athleticism starts in the feet. Any NFL scout will tell you that. It does not matter the position, the technique or the football assignment—feet win NFL matchups.
Grown men who evaluate offensive linemen are obsessed with a simple six-inch step.
One of the most important steps in football is the setup. It's a quick, routine step, play in and play out, that sets up motion out of stance, because offensive linemen have to mirror and engage the (typically much more athletic) opposition in a variety of ways.
When making the first step, the arms should not be gangly and sloppy, but coiled and prepared to follow through with the second step—the "engagement" or "punch" step. Feet should be pointed outward at only the slightest degree or straightforward and shoulder-width apart. Knees can be bowed inward at a slight angle if that positioning aids in making the first step.
An offensive lineman can go in eight different directions with his first step. This is the "power step" or the "positioning step," and likely a million other names across varying football institutions. This is the short, assignment-side step that an offensive lineman must make his initial move with. If the assignment is to the right, the right foot delivers the first step and vice versa.
Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher both start their plays out correctly nearly every time. Both players show the ability to get off the ball, identify their target and gain proper positioning from the start.
This is a kick slide. Look at the first step Luke Joeckel makes on this play with his left foot.
You'll notice he continues "kicking" his left foot back and sliding his right out through engagement.
Every time he resets, he keeps a solid base and does not stand straight up. He keeps his knees bent. He does not get overextended or seem to "lunge" at his target. His head is up, his neck is bowed, and he is "looking through his eyebrows." His hips are slightly open, but his upper body remains facing mainly upfield to start. It's everything you look for in a pass-blocking prospect.
It helps that he demolishes the guy to end things, too.
Eric Fisher fires out of his stance with authority and purpose. Central Michigan used him on all sorts of pulls and trap blocks in order to take advantage of his athleticism and terrific feet. His initial power step is always quick and clean, while his kick slide seems smooth and effortless.
Upon engagement in pass-blocking situations, Fisher resets his feet quickly while mirroring, staying flexible and fluid. He stays on the balls of his feet and never seems to get them in cement. While STATS did not have all of Fisher's games charted for 2012, it did have data from the games where he faced Big 10 competition.
The second step is where the offensive lineman will be required to fire in his initial direction and "punch."
In any blocking scheme, the tackle must be capable of the reach block. This is especially important in wide-zone spread attacks, and takes athleticism from the tackle in order to cover the distance that exists to the defensive end's outside shoulder in the run game—and even more so in getting to the second level against linebackers.
If the defender is in a five-technique (on the tackle's outside shoulder—which is most common), this requires the left tackle to make a good power step with his outside (left) foot to an area just outside the right foot of the opposing defensive end to the play side, then aim the drive he will create through his inside right leg through the middle of the defensive end's body.
Basically, if the running back will be coming to the left tackle's outside in an off-tackle play call, the tackle should be envisioning pounding his right knee powerfully into the defensive end's crotch. The eventual goal should be getting his facemask underneath the defensive end's outside shoulder, turning him inside and driving him back.
While Joeckel positions his body in more fundamentally sound ways when getting to blocks, he does not have the power in his upper body to counter disengage moves that Fisher already possesses.
This is important because disengage and hand-check moves are things NFL defensive ends spend most of their practice time working on.
Both Fisher and Joeckel are adept at getting to the second level to make blocks on smaller, shiftier linebackers. While Fisher likes to latch on and drive like a nightmare freight train (sometimes it looks unfair seeing Fisher blocking a linebacker downfield), Joeckel makes great position plays by utilizing cut blocks and "rolling" himself into the defender.
Joeckel had the luxury of blocking for an elusive QB phenom in Johnny Manziel during the 2012 season. For this reason, Joeckel operated almost completely out of a two-point stance. Joeckel looks like the more traditional fit in a zone-blocking scheme, but only because he plays the way we are used to seeing.
Fisher has potential to be a player similar to Duane Brown of the Texans—a menacing, athletic powerhouse who can thrive in a zone-blocking scheme by executing his reach blocks via athleticism converted to power at engagement.
Joeckel played for Texas A&M against SEC competition and absolutely thrived, dominating most times. Fisher played at CMU against inferior Mid-American Conference players and looked dominant at basically all times. Fisher then went on to the Senior Bowl and blew everyone in attendance out of the water. The highest level of competition.
Fisher is a powerful, athletic mauler, while Joeckel is a precision tactician with a huge frame and plenty of room to grow into the next amazing NFL tackle. Talk about a stacked top of the deck in the 2013 NFL draft at the offensive tackle position.
Joeckel is the prototype for a future dominating NFL offensive tackle. He will be more than a valuable asset to whichever lucky NFL team acquires his services in late April.
Prior to analyzing the two players side by side and in depth, I was convinced Joeckel was the far-and-away leader, even after watching Fisher for a week in Mobile during practice.
Joeckel just always looks so good. His game rarely gives anyone reason for pause or second thought. As a package, Joeckel could end up being the player who is more valuable in the long run.
But right now—I can't believe I'm saying this—Eric Fisher is the better player.
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