NFL DRAFT: Teams go after beef in first round
NEW YORK — More than 2 1/2 tons of linemen, five trades, one quarterback and no Manti Te’o.
The first round of the NFL draft delivered an enormous portion of beef, with 18 teams devouring linemen from the opening pick of offensive tackle Eric Fisher by Kansas City to center Travis Frederick by Dallas at No. 31.
But perhaps the biggest story of the first round was Teo’s name not being called by Commissioner Roger Goodell during the 3-hour, 33-minute session Thursday night.
Te’o, the All-America linebacker from Notre Dame, became a tabloid sensation in January with revelations that the girlfriend who supposedly died during the season was actually a hoax. But what may have hurt his draft status most was his poor play in the national title game loss to Alabama, and his slow 40-yard dash time at the combine.
Te’o wasn’t the only big-name player who will have to wait until Friday’s second round. West Virginia’s Geno Smith was expected to be taken, but instead the only quarterback picked was Florida State’s EJ Manuel by Buffalo with the 16th spot, acquired in a trade with St. Louis. It was the lowest the first QB was taken since 2000, when Chad Pennington went 18th to the Jets. The Bills, of course, are optimistic about Manuel.
“If we can develop this guy, he has the talent to take you to the dance,” Bills general manager Buddy Nix said. “This guy was further along than most of them as far as his knowledge of the game. ... This guy, to us, has got leadership qualities. He’s smart. And he’s big.”
Also left out in the first round were running backs — none was taken for the first time since 1963. Among running backs who could go in the second round today are Eddie Lacy of Alabama and Montee Ball of Wisconsin. Other quarterbacks still waiting for their names to be called include USC’s Matt Barkley, Oklahoma’s Landry Jones and Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib.
This first round showed off the beef. The breakdown: nine offensive linemen, nine defensive linemen.
“It’s always nice when the O-line gets some respect,” offensive tackle Luke Joeckel said after being taken No. 2 by Jacksonville. “We usually get the crummy meeting room, the crummy chairs in our meeting room. A lot of teams are realizing how important the position is. The guys, they look pretty scoring the touchdowns, but they get space to score those touchdowns from us.”
And on the other side of the ball, teams need players to break through the line to get to the quarterbacks and running backs. That’s why Miami was in a trading mood, moving up from No. 12 to No. 3 in a deal with Oakland to grab defensive end Dion Jordan of Oregon.
“We took a player we coveted quite a bit,” Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland said of the player he hopes could be the next Jason Taylor. “You’ve got to knock the quarterback down, you’ve got to take the ball away. This guy can do one of those two things.”
After the opening two picks, the stampede was on. The first seven picks were all linemen.
“That’s a lot of love for the big boys up front, which we usually don’t get,” Fisher said.
Fisher became the first Mid-American Conference player selected at the top when Chiefs new coach Andy Reid chose the 6-foot-7, 306-pound offensive tackle.
“This is so surreal,” Fisher said. “I’m ready to get to work right now. I’m ready to start playing some football. I can’t process what’s going on right now.”
After Joeckel and Jordan were taken, it was BYU defensive end Ziggy Ansah to Detroit, LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo to Cleveland, and North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper to Arizona.
Fisher was only the third offensive tackle picked No. 1, joining Orlando Pace (1997) and Jake Long (2008) since the 1970 merger of the NFL and AFL. It’s also the first time since ‘70 that offensive tackles went 1-2.
Even without a high-profile passer, runner or tackler going at the outset, the fans in the home of the Rockettes were pumped. They chanted “U-S-A, U-S-A” when Goodell paid tribute to the first responders at the Boston Marathon bombings and to the victims of the explosion in West, Texas. They roared when Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath began the countdown to the first outdoor Super Bowl in a cold-weather site by taking the podium and screaming: “New York; Super Bowl 48.”
The crowd didn’t seem to care that early on the picks were all heifers, not hoofers. No Andrew Lucks or RG3s at the top of this crop.
New Eagles coach Chip Kelly got a road-grader for his uptempo offense in Johnson.
“Tackle is not a very sexy position,” Johnson said. “But it’s a position of dire need.”
In another trade, the Rams moved up eight spots — and sent four picks to Buffalo to do so. St. Louis then grabbed West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin, all 5-8, 174 pounds of him.