There’s not a worse word in scouting circles than “potential”. It’s basically defined as something that could happen or, more specifically, something that someone could become. It sounds great in theory, but what if a player can’t become something far greater?
Take Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel. He’s projected by most to be the No. 1 overall selection in this month’s draft, but some don’t consider him the top offensive tackle. I certainly don’t; he’s second to Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher. That’s partly because he’s not as athletic as Fisher is, and also because he doesn’t have the upside or potential that Fisher has.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. Joeckel is less likely to fail to live up to his billing — some call this having a “higher floor” — because he’s a better prospect than Fisher is right now. He’s a technician in the same way Jake Long was when he came out of the University of Michigan in 2008 and was selected with the top pick by the Miami Dolphins. For general managers whose hind regions are on fire right now because of a crappy job they’ve done in recent years or those who have just begun their reign, it benefits them to select the “safer” player. That explains why Kansas City is likely to take Joeckel with their first overall pick in 17 days, even though he doesn’t have the potential that Fisher does.
What Joeckel does have is consistency. He’s very efficient in his technique and is a very good player on a per snap basis, as NFL Films’ Greg Cosell recently noted. At the offensive tackle position, that’s more important than the factor of potential and elite athleticism, which Joeckel, doesn’t have.
Playing consistently with proper technique at the tackle position is similar to a safety playing with quality fundamentals. Even though the safety, in this example, is slower than others, he makes up for it with better fundamentals. It’s similar with the tackle position, which is precisely why Joeckel is rated so highly.
Here’s an example of his technique. He’s at his usual left tackle position, and the opposition is an Alabama defensive end. The end is lined up at a widened five technique, and Joeckel has his left foot staggered, a sign indicating a kick-slide is coming.
As the play begins, Joeckel kicks out his left leg and repeatedly plants his right leg into the ground. While he slides, the defensive end takes a wide rush upfield, testing the foot quickness and technique of Joeckel. Is he quick enough to slide out wide? Can he extend his arms to redirect the end? If not, can he recover? Does he leave the inside rush lane to the end? These are all important questions and Joeckel gave emphatic answers.
While widening, Joeckel got his hands up and onto the end. His left arm was underneath the end’s inside arm. It was a smart move that was done to gain leverage and control the defender. He did this while sliding his feet and bending his knees.
When the defensive end reaches the top of his rush, he realizes there’s nowhere else to go. Joeckel has closed down the road to quarterback Johnny Manziel by further sliding his feet and keeping the rusher at arm length’s distance.
The end tries to spin back inside and attack through the near gap. Joeckel slides his feet, bends his knees, and raises his arms up again. The pursuit is over.
Bill Parcells, the former New York Giants Super Bowl-winning head coach and the most responsible for selecting Long in 2008, once said “son, your potential is going to get me fired.” The reality is that at the end of the day, the job that a player has been given simply needs to get done, and Joeckel can do that.
He may not have the potential that Fisher has, but he has the consistency that will make him a better player at least early in his NFL career.