Draft class is hefty at the top

INDIANAPOLIS — This draft’s class of offensive linemen is chock full of stories and characters.

Luke Joeckel and Barrett Jones have the neatly trimmed hair, the clean-cut faces and the All-America pedigrees as they paved the way for Heisman Trophy winners.

Eric Fisher wants to show everyone that Central Michigan has prepared him just as well for the NFL as any of the perennial powerhouse programs.

Kyle Long will spend this weekend trying to convince NFL scouts he can add another chapter to the family’s NFL legacy.

Yes, this draft class has a little bit of everything — except a consensus No. 1 pick.

“The way I’m looking at it, I want to get there. I am definitely striving to be the No. 1 pick, going through this entire process and playing this season and all that kind of stuff,” Joeckel said. “But my dream is to just play in the NFL.”

Most analysts believe the offensive and defensive linemen will make up the vast majority of this year’s first-round picks, but who goes where will likely depend on what teams need or want. And there are plenty of questions to answer before draft weekend rolls around.

Joeckel is the straight-laced guy who sticks to the script on and off the field. He measured in at 6-foot-6 and 306 pounds, a little lighter than he had hoped and perhaps a little lighter than the scouts would have liked, though he remains the tentative favorite to go No. 1.

Jones, an Alabama grad, enjoys life so much he even poked fun at reporters’ questions Thursday. He has one of the rarest résumés in college football history — three BCS championship rings and three All-America selections at as many positions — twice on the first team, once on the third.

Yet his biggest hurdle is staying healthy. Jones can’t work out in Indy because he’s six weeks into a four-month recovery from surgery to repair a Lisfranc injury in his left foot.

While some wonder where this 6-foot-4½, 306-pounder will play in the NFL after excelling at right guard, left tackle and center in college, there are few doubts about his intangibles.

He was tough enough to confront quarterback AJ McCarron on the sideline during last month’s BCS title game, has made missionary trips to Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and has shown a propensity for quickly assimilating into the offense.

“I think when you play a lot of different positions, you start learning the offense from a lot of different perspectives and you understand the offense instead of just knowing it,” he said.

Fisher is trying to follow the lead of Joe Staley, another Central Michigan alum who made it big in the NFL. Teams appear to like his quick feet and athleticism, skills he developed as a high school basketball player long before measuring in at 306 pounds on combine week.

What he needs to prove is that he can make a smooth transition from the Mid-American Conference to the NFL, which has proved a challenge for many players.

Long, the son of Hall of Famer Howie and brother of Rams defensive lineman Chris, appears to be the next in the family lineage. But he took a circuitous route to the combine by starting out as a Florida State pitcher, and he wound up on the police blotter following a DUI arrest in January 2009.

After leaving school, he worked briefly in a surf shop and resurfaced as a football player at Saddleback Junior College in California before heading to Oregon, where he switched from the defensive line last season.