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O-linemen are draft's A-listers

NFL teams choose five offensive tackles in first round, but only one quarterback.

April 26, 2013|SAM FARMER
  • Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher is interviewed after he was selected by the Kansas City Chiefs with the first pick in the 2013 NFL draft on Thursday night in New York.
Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher is interviewed after he… (Jason DeCrow / Associated…)

NEW YORK — If there was any doubt, the NFL is still tackle football.

Five of the first 19 picks in the opening round of the 2013 draft were offensive tackles, including three of the first four selections. Three guards and a center went too on a Thursday night when the strong, silent types found their voice.

"It's always nice when the O-line gets some respect," said the Jacksonville Jaguars' Luke Joeckel, chosen second after the Kansas City Chiefs' Eric Fisher -- the first time the NFL draft has started tackle-tackle.

"We usually get the crummy meeting room, the crummy chairs in our meeting rooms, and it's always nice when we get some respect."

The theatrics at Radio City Music Hall were memorable for many reasons. Among them:

* Only one quarterback went in the first round, Florida State's EJ Manuel, who went 16th to the Buffalo Bills. Still on the board for Friday's second and third rounds are West Virginia's Geno Smith, USC's Matt Barkley and a host of others.

"I don't think I was very conflicted," said Bills Coach Doug Marrone, who passed on his college quarterback, Syracuse's Ryan Nassib. "I think that at the end of the day there are a lot of good quarterbacks in the draft, and we were able to take the best quarterback that we felt fit us."

Barkley wasn't among the 23 players who attended the draft. Smith was, but reportedly was not planning to return for Day 2.

* Just one skill-position player was chosen among the first 15 picks, West Virginia's Tavon Austin, who went eighth to St. Louis. The Rams made a trade with the Bills to move up eight spots and grab the speedy slot receiver.

* Three Alabama players went in consecutive order, picks nine to 11: cornerback Dee Milliner to the New York Jets, guard Chance Warmack to the Tennessee Titans, and tackle D.J. Fluker to the San Diego Chargers.

* For the first time in 50 years, it was a shutout for running backs, with Alabama's Eddie Lacy waiting in the green room to hear his name. Wisely, he brought two suits in anticipation of a potentially long wait.

* Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, the Heisman Trophy runner-up who had the most turbulent off-season imaginable, didn't hear his name called, either, even though several teams were in need of inside linebackers.

* One UCLA player was chosen, defensive end Datone Jones by the Green Bay Packers at 26, but USC was left out in the cold for just the third time in the last 10 years. Barkley and receiver Robert Woods stand a good chance of going in the second round.

* The Minnesota Vikings had three of the final 10 picks, addressing some pressing needs. They landed Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd -- who was taken much lower than anticipated, at 23 -- and Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes at 25.

The Vikings then traded back into the round to take Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson at 29, regarded by some scouts as the most potential-laden pass catcher in this class.

But this draft had more sheer poundage than panache. It was about the big men.

"Tackle is not a very sexy position, but it's a position in dire need," said Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson, drafted fourth by Philadelphia. "I think when you have a good, solid offensive line, it really can benefit a team as far as passing the ball and running."

The San Francisco 49ers have proved that over the last two seasons, remodeling their line through the draft and riding that wave all the way to the Super Bowl. In the copycat NFL, competitors noticed (even though a strong offensive line has always been the bedrock of success).

In the weeks leading into the draft, Joeckel was generally considered the favorite to be chosen first overall, although Chiefs Coach Andy Reid never tipped his hand. In the last few days, speculation spread that Fisher -- less of a technician but perhaps more aggressive -- had inched into the lead.

But even Fisher was in the dark as to how the first two picks would unfold.

"When I got the phone call," he said upon being asked when he knew he was going to Kansas City. "I think a lot of people knew more than I did. When that phone rang, it was just so surreal, a dream come true and a goal complete. I honestly had no idea I was going to Kansas City."

Fisher joins Orlando Pace and Jake Long as the only tackles to be taken first overall in the modern era, although USC's Ron Yary was the top pick in 1968, two years before the AFL-NFL merger.

Fisher heard all the chatter, saw all the mock drafts, endured all the speculation. In the end, though, he did what any good tackle would do.

He blocked it out.


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