Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, an Arlington High School graduate and the 2012 Outland Trophy winner, has chosen to bypass his senior season and enter the 2013 NFL Draft.
In a statement released Tuesday by school officials, Joeckel called the move a very difficult decision but acknowledged that his soaring NFL stock made it clear "it is in my best interest to come out."
Joeckel (6-foot-6, 310 pounds), a junior and thee-year starter, has been projected as a first-round pick and possibly the top overall selection in an April draft that is lean on skill-position talent. Two scouting services have identified Joeckel as the best available talent in the draft, regardless of position, and NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt said, "Joeckel could be like Jake Long."
Long, a four-time Pro Bowl performer at offensive tackle, was the first overall pick in the 2008 draft by the Miami Dolphins.
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Because Joeckel could follow Long's lead, A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said he supports the decision by a consensus All-American who was instrumental in helping A&M (11-2) finish fifth in Tuesday's postseason polls -- the school's highest placement since 1956.
"We appreciate everything he has done for Aggie football and Texas A&M and wish him well in the NFL," Sumlin said.
The lingering question is how Joeckel's decision will impact Jake Matthews, A&M's other All-American offensive tackle pondering his NFL future. Matthews (6-5, 305), also a junior and three-year starter who projects as a first-round pick, said last week that he would confer with Joeckel before making his decision.
"I'll definitely take into account what he does," Matthews said. "I wouldn't say it's dead-set that if he goes, I go, or if he stays, I stay ... We're good friends. We'll influence each other a little bit."
Joeckel becomes A&M's second underclassman to enter the draft, joining All-America defensive end Damontre Moore. In reaching Tuesday's decision, Joeckel said, "I thought long and hard and visited with my family and coaches. ... It is tough to leave."
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760