Large and In Charge
Big Blockers Lead The Pack This Year
FILE - In this Feb. 23, 2013, file photo, Texas A&M offensive lineman Luke Joeckel runs a drill during the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis. Don't be shocked if the first four names called Thursday night at the NFL Draft by Commissioner Roger Goodell come from the trenches: tackles Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M and Eric Fisher of Central Michigan; defensive end Dion Jordan of Oregon; and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd of Florida. (AP Photo/Dave Martin, File)
New York — Bring on the behemoths.
The guys who throw the football usually dominate the spotlight heading into the NFL draft. This year, it’s the big bodies who protect those prized quarterbacks who are front and center.
As are the players whose main purpose is to find the QB and get him on the ground.
What the 2013 draft might lack in glamour — no Andrew Luck, RG3 or Trent Richardson — and, other than the fate of Manti Te’o, mystique, it balances out with beef. Don’t be shocked if the first four names called Thursday night by Commissioner Roger Goodell come from the trenches: tackles Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M and Eric Fisher of Central Michigan; defensive end Dion Jordan of Oregon; and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd of Florida.
Kansas City will begin the selections, and new coach Andy Reid believes there’s so much focus on offensive tackles because there’s no other clear-cut No. 1 prospect.
“This is what I think: They’ve been fairly safe picks over the years,” Reid said. “So if it comes down to equal here or there, and you have to choose, it might be a fairly safe pick. The percentages, with that position — you evaluate the success rate with all the positions, you’ll come back to the offensive line and say, ‘Yeah, that’s a fairly safe pick, offensive tackle.”
It has become even more critical to have strong pass protectors as the NFL has developed into a throw-it-all-over-the-place league. Now that the Chiefs acquired Alex Smith as their starting quarterback, they want to ensure his health. Having the highest-rated 2013 draft prospect as an insurance policy is a good fit.
Reid’s former boss, Eagles GM Howie Roseman, owns the fourth spot on Thursday. Philadelphia isn’t exactly loaded on either line.
“There are some really talented offensive linemen in this draft; defensive linemen,” Roseman said. “This is a really a meat and potatoes draft, certainly early in the first couple of rounds with linemen, which is exciting. It may not be the flashiest thing, but it’s exciting. It’s hard to find big guys who can move, play with power, and there are a lot of guys in this draft.”
Such as tackles Lane Johnson of Oklahoma, D.J. Fluker of Alabama and Menelik Watson of Florida State; guards Chance Warmack of Alabama, Jonathan Cooper of North Carolina and Larry Warford of Kentucky; centers Barrett Jones of Alabama and Travis Frederick of Wisconsin, both of whom can play guard; DEs Bjoern Werner of Florida State, Damontre Moore, of Texas A&M, Ziggy Ansah of BYU and Barkevious Mingo of LSU; and DTs Jesse Williams of Alabama, Star Lotulelei of Utah and Sheldon Richardson of Missouri.
To Roseman, the blockers are especially prized this year.
“When you’re in the college game, and you’re an offensive lineman, you’re doing all the same things you’re going to have to do in the NFL game,” he said. “So maybe the projection’s a little easier and, again, it’s hard to find guys who are this size, this weight, this athletic ability, this length.”
Ansah (Ghana), Williams (Australia), Werner (Germany), SMU’s Margus Hunt (Estonia) and Watson (England) all bring an unprecedented international flavor to the early rounds.
For those who want a little skill-position spice with their meat and potatoes, don’t count on too much pizzaz from the QBs, RBs or DBs. They could be MIA through most of the opening 32 selections.
West Virginia’s Geno Smith almost certainly will go in the first round, with the strong-armed but erratic quarterback projected by some to be taken as high as No. 2 by Jacksonville. Oakland, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Arizona, Buffalo and the New York Jets, each with a top 10 pick, have assorted issues at the position and could opt for Smith.
More likely, most of those teams will go quarterback hunting in the second round or lower, which isn’t great news for Matt Barkley, E.J. Manuel, Landry Jones, Ryan Nassib and the other passer prospects.
That’s doesn’t mean this is a weak crop of QBs.
“Some of that, you’re not going to know until you get these guys on campus and you start developing them,” said new Jets general manager John Idzik, a Dartmouth graduate who was with Seattle before coming to New York. “I experienced that firsthand last year (with Russell Wilson), where the draftniks may project a certain class of certain individual a little bit lower, but you look at him a little bit differently.”
Wilson went in the third round, yet beat out high-priced free agent Matt Flynn, then led the Seahawks to the playoffs.
If only one quarterback goes in the opening round, it was would be the first time since 2001, when Michael Vick was the top pick.
It’s even more possible just one running back, Alabama’s Eddie Lacy, is chosen in the first round.
Then there’s Te’o.
Although the hard-hitting middle linebacker swept through college football last season and helped revitalize Notre Dame, his stock took a severe hit, too. Not from the online girlfriend hoax he fell for, but from an awful performance in the BCS championship game rout at the hands of Alabama.
Te’o also had some mediocre postseason workouts, but has improved on those recently, and apparently impressed many teams with his forthrightness about the hoax.
Teams love the passion and aggressiveness he brings to the field. They also worry about his lack of speed and weak coverage skills.
“The vast majority of player personnel people saw him as a good player, but not as a great player,” said Phil Savage, a former NFL general manager who now is the executive director of the Senior Bowl.
Good, but not great could be the theme of this year’s draft — except in the trenches, where many of the likely top picks lurk.