NFL Combine Edition: Top 10 Offensive Linemen in 2013 NFL Draft

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Luke Joeckel, Alabama Trio Headline Strong Offensive Line Class

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They don’t get the same glory of the quarterbacks they protect, but the offensive line is the most important unit in the NFL.

Having a great quarterback or running back is rendered moot if you don’t have a quality offensive line to protect the quarterback to give him time to throw to his receivers and tight ends, just ask Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler about that. What good is having a top running back if he is getting hit in the backfield every time he gets the ball? Being strong in those areas is like having a Ferrari body and putting a Ford engine under the hood.

Only one offensive lineman was taken in the first 22 picks in the 2012 draft and four in the first round, but this year may see as many as seven taken in the first round. The left tackle position is the most important position to solidify after quarterback and Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel could be the first left tackle to be the number one pick since Jake Long went first overall to the Miami Dolphins in 2008.

This draft class has two of the better guard prospects in recent memory, a center that is a three-time national champion who can play three different positions and back-to-back champion Alabama could see three linemen selected in the first round.

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10. Ricky Wagner-OT-Wisconsin

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Wisconsin continually develops NFL offensive lineman as the draft is annually littered with the next crop of tackles, guards, and centers from the Badgers. Wagner is the next in the line of great tackles to come from Wisconsin following in the likes of former first round picks Joe Thomas and Gabe Carimi. Will likely start out as a right tackle early in his career, but can develop into a starting left tackle with his above average footwork and strength.

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9. Oday Aboushi-OT-Virginia

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A two-year starter for the Cavaliers is a better pass blocker than he is against the run, but could line up at either tackle position. Won’t be confused for a road-grading lineman like D.J. Fluker and needs to hit the weight room and add strength and weight. Shows a good feel for the game and his field awareness is one of his strengths, so he should be able to handle picking up complex NFL stunts and blitzes. If he shows good footwork and strength at the combine he can be in the second round conversation.

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8. Justin Pugh-OT-Syracuse

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Pugh is three-year starter is going to need to add bulk to his 292-poud frame, but has elite pass blocking skills and is able to handle speed and power rushers with relative ease. Can play too high at times in the run game, and with added bulk will help him drive defenders off the ball. Shows good awareness and is a smart player who is quick to pick up a scheme and read opposing defenses. Scouts will love that he shows a mean streak.

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7. Dallas Thomas-OT-Tennessee

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A bright spot for the struggling Volunteers is an above average pass blocker who has room to improve if can utilize his hands better to get power rushers disengaged off his light frame. Moves and mirrors the defenders well, but needs to develop more upper body strength. Added bulk and strength would aid in his run-blocking which is average. Thomas has experience at left guard and left tackle and has no significant injury history during his college career. His versatility, durability, and experience will do wonders for him during the evaluation process.

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6. Barrett Jones-OC-Alabama

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Jones as lined up all along the Alabama offensive line the last four years and won the Outland Trophy starting as the left tackle on the national champions in 2011 before winning the Rimington award as the best center in 2012. A three-time national title winner, who possesses every intangible you look for in an offensive lineman, excels in getting proper leverage and taking the proper angles to seal off the defender and will be a coach’s dream. Jones is a very cerebral player similar to long time pro bowl center Matt Birk who can be a pivot on the offensive line and handle all the calls and blitz pick-ups with ease.

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5. D.J. Fluker-RT-Alabama

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An absolute physical presence at 6-5 and 335-pounds, Fluker will be penciled in at right tackle where he could open up holes for his running backs with relative ease for the next decade. Some are concerned if he has enough foot speed to hold up in pass protection, but I think he has enough agility and good enough feet to be a standout at right tackle for a long time. He’s a multiple national title winner and has blocked for a Heisman winner in Mark Ingram and finalist in Trent Richardson.

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4. Jonathan Cooper-OG-North Carolina

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Cooper is a four-year starter that excels as a pass blocker because of his quick and nimble feet. Has really developed into an above average blocker in the run game and delivers a good hand punch and a nasty demeanor. He can line up at either guard spots and play center in a pinch, but his best position is at left guard where he can get out and pull to the second level as well as any guard in America.

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3. Eric Fisher-LT-Central Michigan

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A bit of a sleeper because he’s from a smaller school, but there is nothing small about the 6-6 300-pound Fisher who has prototypical size for a left tackle. He has quick feet, good balance and rarely is on the ground. He may encounter some growing pains early in his NFL career as he adjusts to the speed of the NFL, but once he settles in he should be a starting left tackle for a long time. He will be a fast rising prospect after the combine. Somewhat reminiscent of former Central Michigan standout and first-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers Joe Staley.

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2. Chance Warmack-OG-Alabama

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The best guard prospect I have seen in years, and will be a starter as soon as he steps on the field in training camp. Guards traditionally do not get drafted that high in the draft but Warmack can be the exception. He really has no weaknesses in his game and excels in the run and pass game while possessing exceptional field awareness, durability, and toughness. During his time in Tuscaloosa he has blocked for a Heisman winner in Mark Ingram and another Heisman finalist in Trent Richardson.

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1. Luke Joeckel-LT-Texas A&M

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Joeckel is a very smart and aware left tackle that has started since his freshmen year at Texas A&M that plays with an aggressive and relentless motor while displaying nice athleticism. At 6’6’’ and 305 pounds he could stand do add some bulk to his frame which would improve his run blocking skills and not lose a step as a pass-blocker. Projects as an elite left tackle because he excels at pass protection with his knack for recognizing line stunts and blitzes. Protected the blindside of Heisman winning quarterback Johnny Manziel in college and won the Outland Trophy as a junior. Could be the top pick overall to the Kansas City Chiefs with a strong combine and pro day workout.