Quarterback Drought at NFL Draft Brings Offensive Linemen to Top

Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III helped make 2012 the year of the rookie quarterback in the National Football League after becoming the first duo at the position selected first and second in the draft in 13 years.

This year’s draft projects to be much different, coaches and analysts said, notable for its lack of premier talent at quarterback. Last year’s selections produced starters Russell Wilson, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden in addition to Luck and Griffin, who both led their teams into the playoffs.

When the Kansas City Chiefs start the three-day player draft tonight at 8 p.m. in New York, it probably will mark the third time in 13 years that a quarterback isn’t taken with the top pick. An offensive lineman may instead be the first choice, pushing quarterbacks out of the premier spot for the first time since 2008.

“There is not an Andrew Luck or RG3 or someone that you say ‘that guy’s going to be a 10-year All-Pro, one of the best,”’ said Philadelphia Eagles first-year coach Chip Kelly, who has the fourth pick. “I don’t see that type of can’t-miss guy in this draft, at any position. But I think depth-wise there are a lot of quality players.”

Five years ago, the Miami Dolphins took offensive lineman Jake Long with the No. 1 pick. The Chiefs may also take a left tackle, with ESPN and NFL.com draft analysts projecting it will be Texas A&M’s 6-foot-6, 306-pound Luke Joeckel.

“This year the offensive line position has some true prospects in it,” Chiefs General Manager John Dorsey told reporters last week, while declining to talk specifically about individuals.

The Chiefs last took an offensive lineman with their first pick in 1999 when they selected John Tait from Brigham Young University.

Top Picks

Offensive tackles Eric Fisher of Central Michigan and Lane Johnson of the University of Oklahoma also are potential top picks, as are defensive linemen Sharrif Floyd of Florida, Ezekiel Ansah of Brigham Young, Dion Jordan of Oregon, Star Lotulelei of Utah and Barkevious Mingo of Louisiana State.

The highest-rated quarterbacks are Geno Smith of West Virginia, Ryan Nassib of Syracuse, E.J. Manuel of Florida State, Matt Barkley of Southern California and Mike Glennon of North Carolina State. Where they’ll be picked remains unclear.

“I’m just glad we’re not in that market, let’s put it that way,” said Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway, who acquired Peyton Manning last year, as he talked with reporters last week. “It’s not nearly as strong as a class as it was last year.”

The Chiefs picked up their starting quarterback last month when new coach Andy Reid acquired Alex Smith, the No. 1 draft pick in 2005, from the San Francisco 49ers.

Top 10

The Jacksonville Jaguars have the No. 2 pick, followed by the Oakland Raiders, Eagles, Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns, Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, New York Jets and Tennessee Titans. The Jets also have the 13th overall pick, which they acquired in the trade last weekend that sent cornerback Darrelle Revis to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Jets are the first NFL team since 2000 to have two of the top 13 picks in the draft.

“Very few teams are going to look at a quarterback early,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said on a media conference call. “You have a first-round quarterback in Geno Smith. He’s going to go in the top 10, but everybody thinks he’s a 20 to 32 talent, so it has been an interesting dynamic trying to evaluate where he’ll project.”

Disappointing Seasons

Barkley and Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones a year ago were both considered potential early first-round picks, then had their draft stock drop after opting to return to school for their senior seasons.

“When you get a guy like Barkley who is a very competitive kid and the team wasn’t anywhere as good as they expected to be, I think he started to force things,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “Barkley is still going to go somewhere in the first round, probably the bottom third. I’m not sure where yet, but it’s probably a team trading up from the second round to the first to get him.”

Beside the quarterbacks, perhaps the biggest question is where Notre Dame linebacker Manti T’eo is taken.

Te’o was the Heisman Trophy runner-up as college football’s top player last season, yet has faced questions both on and off the field. Te’o struggled defensively in Notre Dame’s loss to the University of Alabama in last season’s national championship game and came under further scrutiny after acknowledging he lied to the media after learning he was caught in a hoax involving a fake online girlfriend.

Kiper has the Chicago Bears taking Te’o with the 20th pick in his mock draft, one pick after the New York Giants’ first-round selection.

“If not, the latest I think he falls is to Minnesota at 23,” Kiper said. “It’ll be interesting to see if a team like Minnesota, knowing that Chicago could have an interest, the Giants could have an interest at 19, tries to move up a little bit to get Te’o.”

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