Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel, for much of the draft process, was projected to be the top player selected in a first round dominated by the wide bodies charged with protecting a quarterback’s blindside.
But Joeckel slipped a bit Thursday night, as Kansas City, owners of the first pick, selected Central Michigan tackle Eric Fisher. The Aggie consensus All-American had to wait a heart-pounding five or so minutes to learn he was going to Jacksonville at pick No. 2.
Texas Longhorn safety Kenny Vaccaro learned his NFL fate two hours later, with the New Orleans Saints taking him with the 15th overall selection. Vaccaro was the first safety drafted and third defensive back.
Joeckel, a three-year starter, was hoping to become the first Aggie to be selected No. 1. Instead, he had to settle for being the fifth A&M standout to go second overall.
“I’m a competitor and I think every guy here in New York at the draft was fighting to be the number one pick,” Joeckel told reporters. “We all want to be that number one pick. I think this whole thing, going two, is just going to drive me more. It’s going to help me work harder, especially with another offensive tackle going in front of me is going to help me work harder because I’ll always want to be the best. I’m happy to be in Jacksonville. I’m happy to get down there. I understand now that even being the number two pick doesn’t even matter, I still have to prove myself.”
The drop from one to two likely cost Joeckel about $1 million. Andrew Luck, last year’s top draft pick, signed a four-year contract worth $22.1 million, while Baylor’s Robert Griffin III received a deal for $21.1 million for going second. Joeckel and his entire family will fly from New York to Jacksonville Friday on the private jet of Jags owner Shad Khan.
A&M now has produced a top 10 selection for three straight years, the most prolific draft stretch in program history. Miller started the run in 2011, while quarterback Ryan Tannehill was the eighth pick a year ago.
Conversely, Vaccaro broke a three-year Longhorn first-round drought. UT last produced a first-rounder in 2010 when safety Earl Thomas was drafted by Seattle with the 14th pick.
Vaccaro is the 16th first-round pick produced in coach Mack Brown’s tenure and fifth defensive back. Vaccaro also is the 10th Longhorn to be among the top 20 picks over the past decade.
At least 10 teams conducted private workouts with Vaccaro. The Saints were one of them.
“The Saints were my last visit,” said Vaccaro, whose 107 tackles led Texas last fall. “And I had a good feeling about it. I am ready to do whatever the Saints want me to do.”
New Orleans coach Sean Payton told reporters he wasn’t sure where Vaccaro would play. He can line up at free or strong safety or cover the slot receiver in a nickel situation.
“I think he’s got very good football intelligence,” Payton told reporters Thursday. “He’s an instinctive player, you can see that on tape. I think he’s got a high football I.Q., which is important.
“I think he brings a physical dimension to the game he plays with,” Payton said. “He’s been well-coached. They do a great job there defensively.”
Big 12 storylines
Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson became part of the offensive line trend, going to Philadelphia at pick No. 4.
Johnson is was known for his athleticism. Before he settled on offensive tackle, he played defensive end and tight end.
Johnson also had a nice outing blocking A&M defensive end Damontre Moore in the Cotton Bowl, Jan. 4.
“It doesn’t surprise anyone on our staff that Lane was a high first-round selection,” said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. “While it took a while to find the right position for him to maximize his athletic potential, I have no doubt that he has a huge upside and will only get better with more experience playing tackle.”
West Virginia’s dynamic receiver Tavon Austin gave the Big 12 two top 10 picks and three for the night. Austin was selected by the St. Louis Rams at pick No. 9. The Rams traded with Buffalo to secure Austin’s services.
Then the Bills pulled a first-round surprise at No. 16, drafting Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel, rather than Mountaineer Geno Smith. The West Virginia standout had been ranked as the draft’s top quarterback. Instead, Smith left the green room, where the top prospects waited, before the first-round was finished.
The draft continues Friday with rounds two and three.
Two defensive ends will local ties now are on the clock — A&M’s Damontre Moore and Texas’ Alex Okafor. Two local receivers also should be in the Friday mix — Texas’ Marquise Goodwin and A&M’s Ryan Swope.
AGGIES IN THE TOP FIVE
2013;Luke Joeckel, LT;2nd;Jaguars
2011;Von Miller, LB;2nd;Broncos
1992;Quentin Coryatt, LB;2nd;Colts
1985;Ray Childress, DL;3rd;Oilers
1980;Curtis Dickey, RB;5th;Colts
1958;John David Crow, RB;2nd;Cardinals
1941;John Kimbrough, RB;2nd;Cardinals
1941;Jim Thomason, RB;5th;Lions