Texas A&M offensive lineman Luke Joeckel answers a question during a news conference at the NFL combine.

Michael Conroy, Associated Press

Few familiar faces at this year's NFL combine

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER
  • Star Tribune
  • February 21, 2013 - 11:06 PM

INDIANAPOLIS - Need a few quick nuggets on Luke Joeckel, the left tackle we'll all learn a lot more about over the next couple months? During his brief cameo in front of reporters at the NFL combine on Thursday, the Texas A&M standout offered a polite introduction.

For starters, Joeckel expressed admiration for the way Browns tackle Joe Thomas plays.

"He's got that brute strength, lumberjack strength," Joeckel said. "And I kind of pride myself on that, too."

Joeckel also made sure to note the conditioning improvements he noticed from playing with Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, the kind of slippery, ad-libbing quarterback who forces linemen to hold blocks.

Oh, and if you want a cute anecdote to top things off, consider that Joeckel spent his high school days in Arlington, Texas, protecting the blind side of his twin brother, Matt, 2 minutes his senior.

"I've got a pretty good story about that," Joeckel said. "My junior year I was pancaking this guy and Matt bounces out of the pocket, and I pancake the guy right into Matt's legs. I get up and instead of him yelling at me, I started yelling at him. 'You gave me a sack? You've got to be a better athlete than that!'"

OK. Scrawl strong, durable and intensely driven into the Joeckel scouting report.

And there you have the thumbnail profile of a prospect who could become the No. 1 pick, a soft-spoken, hard-working kid who may not wow you with his highlight reel. (After all, when was the last time a stadium rose in unison for a powerful pass protection punch?) But from a productivity standpoint, he's as good as it gets.

So maybe Joeckel is a fitting entry point for a 2013 draft that is deep and loaded with in-the-trenches talent but lacks that alluring star.

The sizzle may be absent, yet for many NFL coaches and general managers, the usual buzz has been replaced by an eye-opening surplus of value.

Said Vikings GM Rick Spielman: "Just because you don't have the RG3s, the Andrew Lucks or those specific playmakers, there are still a lot of guys who don't get the recognition but can make a huge impact. They're just not at splash positions."

Need a home run running back? Alabama's Eddie Lacey is a human wrecking ball but may wind up as the only back drafted in the first round.

Looking for a few freakish receivers to gravitate toward? Playmakers are present here, such as Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson and Cal's Keenan Allen and Louisiana Tech's Quinton Patton. But they won't generate buzz like Julio Jones and A.J. Green did two years ago.

And what about that quarterback class walking in the shadows of last year's Luck-Robert Griffin III combo? Matt Barkley and Geno Hayes are intriguing talents but with far more uncertain futures. So as of now, it wouldn't be a shock if this was the first draft since 2000 in which a quarterback wasn't selected in the top 10.

The Vikings own the 23rd pick overall. Which isn't a bad place to be in a draft where the talent gap from the fifth pick through the end of the opening night won't be too wide.

"I think we're going to get an excellent football player at 23," Spielman said.

Furthermore, a record number of juniors (73) have declared, enhancing the draft pool significantly. And the quality of depth at several key positions -- defensive tackle, receiver, linebacker -- could provide the Vikings terrific options on the draft's second and third days.

Which is why Spielman lit up Thursday when mentioning the extra fourth-round pick he possesses before later noting a desire to add a 10th selection to the pile.

Sure, at this time last year, the Vikings owned the No. 3 pick, which allowed them to lock in on Matt Kalil.

"Last year was pretty easy to figure out," Spielman said. "This year will be fun, because there's so many different ways it could go with what falls into your lap."

And just the opportunity to fiddle with options on draft weekend gives the Vikings GM a surge of anticipation, knowing he will have to constantly size up each position and readjust the team's big board.

"To me," Spielman said, "that's all part of working the board on draft day, when you see the depth and the options you have as you get ready to come on the clock."

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