It is never too early to begin looking ahead to next year's NFL Draft. Each year a unique set of prospects enters the professional ranks with a chance to make an immediate impact on the country's most powerful sport. The 2013 NFL Draft won’t be any different.
Today, we rank college football's best offensive tackles prospects:
1. Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M (6-6, 310, Jr.)
The big blocker from Arlington, Texas, has seen his level of competition increase significantly with the shift to the SEC. He has faced LSU and Florida and he gave his team a chance to win both times. He has perfect size, power and fundamentals to play the prototypical left tackle position. He leads the way on an offense that is one of, if not the, best in the SEC with a record-setting quarterback.
2. Jake Matthews, Texas A&M (6-5, 305, Jr.)
No player may ever enter the NFL with a better pedigree than Matthews. His father is Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews. His older brother, Kevin, started for two seasons along the Aggies' offensive line. The Missouri City, Texas, native has tremendous knowledge of the game and a refined overall technique — as expected from a prospect who comes from the Matthews family tree. It means he is developed and should contribute immediately, but it could also mean his upside is more limited than his teammate.
3. D.J. Fluker, Alabama (6-6, 335, Jr.)
Coming out of high school in Foley, Ala., Fluker was considered one of the biggest prospects in Alabama history. He was a surefire can’t-miss superstar. It took him some time to adapt to the SEC, but he has blossomed into one of the better tackles in the nation. He has a huge, powerful frame, has the best coaching in the country, has a national championship ring and has faced the nation’s best defensive lineman in the SEC.
4. Taylor Lewan, Michigan (6-8, 310, Jr.)
Center David Molk led this offensive line in 2011 and Lewan took over that role this season. He has faced defensive lines like Alabama, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin. He has one of the longer frames in this class and plays an aggressive brand of football (as was evident by his numerous penalties early in his career). He is a bit unrefined and may not be ready to start right away but has loads of upside.
5. Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin (6-6, 320, Sr.)
The Bagders have been churning out excellent lineman for the better part of two decades and this offense has been amongst the nation’s best over the last few seasons. He has a solid frame and is an excellent athlete for his size but questions remain about his overall upside. Players like Whitney Mercilus and William Gholston have been able to play effectively against him. He might be more of a right tackle as his overall toughness and consistency needs to improve.
6. Dallas Thomas, Tennessee (6-5, 310, Sr.)
He isn’t the biggest prospect so he may not stick at tackle, but he is one of the more versatile. This offense has shown marked improvement over the last few seasons with Thomas’ leadership. He played relatively well against elite level competition in Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State, Alabama and South Carolina on the slate this fall. Where scouts evaluate his long-term future will largely determine if he lands in the first round or not.
7. Eric Fisher, Central Michigan (6-8, 305, Sr.)
The scouting report should be fairly easy to pinpoint for the big guy from Rochester, Mich. He has great size, has been a steady force on the edge for the Chippewas and large questions remain about his level of competition. There has been some talent to come from CMU along the line of late but dominating the MAC doesn’t mean you can block in the NFL. He has all the tools needed and simply needs to prove he can handle the jump in talent.
8. Brennan Williams, North Carolina (6-7, 315, Sr.)
The steady road grader has watched his stock steadily climb over the last two seasons after finally earning a starting spot as a junior. He has proven to be a tremendous commodity in the running game and will need to prove himself against elite pass rushers at events like the Senior Bowl. He is one of the bigger players at his position, but scouts need to figure out if the Tar Heels' O-Line is greater than the sum of its parts. Both Hurst and Williams team with elite guard Jonathan Cooper to form one of the better units in the ACC.
9. James Hurst, North Carolina (6-7, 290, Jr.)
One of the top recruits in the nation from Plainfield, Ind., Hurst started 12 games as a true freshman back in 2010. He has improved each season and has a chance to sneak up draft boards with an excellent 2012 campaign. While the ACC gets knocked for its overall talent, programs like Virginia Tech, Miami and Florida State have excellent defensive lineman that offer scouts a quality barometer for Hurst'a ability and potential. He has a huge frame and is an above average athlete for his size. He may be a bit of a project but has plenty of upside.
10. Oday Aboushi, Virginia (6-6, 310, Sr.)
The Cavs have a sneaky good tradition of offensive lineman and Aboushi is the next name. He won’t be considered elite until he proves he can consistently be a dominant force. At times, he is the prototypical blocker with great size, solid quickness and a killer instinct. Other times, his play is rough around the edges and he will get beat. Added strength would go a long way towards improving his draft stock.
11. John Wetzel, Boston College (6-8, 305, Sr.)
Wetzel is next in a long line of excellent Eagles' offensive line prospects.
12. Alex Hurst, LSU (6-6, 340, Sr.)
Has dropped due to poor 2012 campaign but still has lots of talent.
13. Cyril Richardson, Baylor (6-5, 335, Jr.)
Massive prospect might have to slide inside (which would improve his stock).
14. Brian Winters, Kent State (6-6, 295, Sr.)
A bit undersized and competition is a question, but loads of upside.
15. David Yankey, Stanford (6-5, 300, Jr.)
Hails from a program known for physical, pro-style schemes.
16. Xavier Nixon, Florida (6-6, 295, Sr.)
Nation’s No. 1 OL prospect as a recruit needs to add size and consistency.
17. Chris Faulk, LSU (6-6, 320, Jr.)
Would likely be better off rehabbing this fall and returning to LSU.
18. Justin Pugh, Syracuse (6-6, 295, Sr.)
Not an overly talented prospect but a long-time starter and dependable.
19. Elvis Fisher, Missouri (6-5, 300, Sr.)
Has dealt with numerous injuries that will limit his upside.
20. Tanner Hawkinsson, Kansas (6-6, 295, Sr.)
Has a tough job in Lawrence, but has size and overall talent to contribute.
Other names to watch:
Zach Martin, Notre Dame (6-4, 305, Sr.)
Seantrel Henderson, Miami (6-8, 340, Jr.)
Jeff Braun, West Virginia (6-5, 320, Sr.)
Emmett Cleary, Boston College (6-7, 313, Sr.)
LaAdrian Waddle, Texas Tech (6-6, 330, Sr.)
Oscar Johnson, Louisiana Tech (6-6, 330, Sr.)
Luke Marquardt, Azusa Pacific (6-9, 320, Sr.)
Roger Gaines, Tennessee Tech (6-7, 320, Sr.)
David Quessenberry, San Jose State (6-6, 295, Sr.)
Lane Johnson, Oklahoma (6-7, 305, Sr.)
- by Braden Gall
Related NFL Draft Rankings By Position:
2013 NFL Draft: Running Backs
2013 NFL Draft: Tight Ends
2013 NFL Draft: Safeties
2013 NFL Draft: Defensive Tackles
2013 NFL Draft: Wide Receivers
2013 NFL Draft: Offensive Tackles
2013 NFL Draft: Inside Linebackers