A quarterback will be the first player selected in this week's NFL draft, but this could be remembered as the year of big men, blind-side blockers, and (attempted) bailouts.
Whereas the St. Louis Rams already might have stitched the name of Sam Bradford on a No. 1 jersey, there's a decent chance the Oklahoma quarterback is the only skill-position player to go in the top 10.
The top of the draft, which begins Thursday, will be dominated by 300-pounders on the defensive and offensive lines, and there could be a run on offensive tackles that rivals the flurry of 2008, when teams grabbed seven of them in the first round. It will be an upset if either of the top defensive tackles — Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh or Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy — slips out of the top four.
Mike Mayock, draft expert for the NFL Network, thinks there's a good chance three offensive tackles are taken in the first six picks: Oklahoma State's Russell Okung, Oklahoma's Trent Williams and Iowa's Bryan Bulaga. If so, that would be a first in the NFL's modern era. (The closest to that came in 1985, when tackles Bill Fralic, Lomas Brown and Ken Ruettgers went in the first seven picks.)
As for those bailouts? Because there's so much quality depth in this class, there's more value in the later rounds than in typical drafts. Therefore, teams looking to stretch their dollars and reduce their financial risk — and which team isn't? — will be looking to trade down, providing they can get the player they want a little later.
So even though the new three-day format of this draft means the first round will stand alone on primetime TV, it won't necessarily be prime position in the eyes of a lot of teams. That's not to say there will be a lot of trades, however, because every team that wants to trade down has to find a partner willing to trade up.
"A lot of teams will be looking to get back into the second and third rounds as often as they can," Mayock said.
Former NFL coach Jimmy Johnson, known for his drafting prowess, said it only makes sense that teams wait until later rounds to pick up skill-position players unless they're locked in on one in particular.
"It's easier to find running backs and receivers in the second and third rounds," said Johnson, pregame analyst for Fox. "Most teams would wait on a running back or receiver, knowing they could get one of quality in one of the later rounds. The shelf life of running backs is so short that when you draft one, not only is it a risk, but you probably won't have him around very long even if he's good. They've got the shortest career of any position on the board. Once they hit the wall, they're done. The Emmitt Smiths are the rarity."
In terms of roll-the-dice risks in this draft, two of the most interesting are quarterbacks. Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen and Florida's Tim Tebow are both high-profile players who have sparked all sorts of debate.
The question about Clausen concerns his charisma and leadership ability, whereas Tebow is trying to make the tricky transition from an enormously successful quarterback in a college spread offense to a more conventional drop-back passer.
Mayock said Clausen "has the physical skill-set to be a top-10 pick in the draft, similar to Mark Sanchez [selected fifth by the New York Jets last year]. The question is, what kind of kid is [Clausen]? If you buy into him, work ethic, toughness and leadership, there's no reason not to take him. He's every bit as talented as Sanchez."
ESPN's Jon Gruden recently spent time with all of the top quarterback prospects, and he believes Tebow has what it takes to be a first-round pick, even though it's unlikely the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner will be selected that soon.
"Tim's transition to more of a conventional NFL style has drawn a lot of questions from people, whether he can make the modifications in his passing delivery and adapt to playing under center," Gruden said.
"What I'm really impressed with is the way he sits on the edge of his chair, and his work ethic and relentlessness to become great is really second to nobody."