Commentary

Thrill of skill positions will wait

QBs, WRs and RBs will cede early spotlight to big men in first round

Originally Published: April 24, 2013
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

The New York Jets jumped off Revis Island on Sunday with the trade of Darrelle Revis to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The NFL reluctantly moves away from Fantasy Island on Thursday during the first round of the draft.

The first round of the draft lacks fantasy action. This could be the first draft in 30 years in which a running back isn't taken in the first round. At risk is a streak of 11 consecutive drafts in which more than one quarterback has gone in the first round. Plus, it's all but certain that this will be just the fourth draft in the past 20 years in which a quarterback doesn't go in the first three picks.

A handful of wide receivers are considered to be possible first-rounders, but they all could be bypassed in the first 10 picks. Since 1967, there have been only four drafts in which only one receiver, running back or quarterback went in the top 10.

The reality is that it's possible none of three prime fantasy positions will go in the first 10 picks.

This has taken a certain luster out of this year's draft, but the drama of where these players will go should make the first few rounds more interesting.

Here are the 10 things to look forward to in the 2013 draft:

[+] EnlargeJoeckel
Cal Sport MediaLuke Joeckel is expected to lead a run of tackles taken early in the first round.

1. The run on offensive tackles will start early: Since the combine, the Kansas City Chiefshave acted as though they are going to take Texas A&M tackle Luke Joeckel with the first pick. First, they cut right tackle Eric Winston after one season. Then, they shopped franchise left tackle Branden Albert to the Miami Dolphins, further suggesting a left tackle might be coming to the team. Less than two weeks ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have the No. 2 pick in the draft, indicated they were down to two possible selections. Most figure those picks to be Joeckel or Central Michigan left tackle Eric Fisher. The wild card is Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson. The San Diego Chargers are hoping he falls to the 11th pick, but Johnson might end up going No. 4 to Philadelphia, No. 5 to Detroit or No. 7 to Arizona. Three tackles in the top four? Amazing.

2. The trend of giving lower ratings to guards is over: In the previous collective bargaining agreement, the thought of taking a guard in the top 10 didn't pencil out financially. The high price for high picks forced teams to put priorities on positions. Left tackle is one of the most expensive positions in the league. Guards are important, but unless they are dominating players, they aren't considered difference-makers. Because of that, guards often dropped into the lower part of the first round or went in the second. Under the new CBA, draft positions are slotted. The seventh pick in the draft will get around $3.7 million a year. The 10th pick will get around $3.02 million a season. That reality could lead to Alabama guard Chance Warmack and North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper going in the top 10. Mike Iupati of the San Francisco 49ers proved that a guard can be a difference-maker. Iupati was the 17th pick in the 2010 draft, but he quickly established himself as one of the best guards in football. His blocking has helped the 49ers advance to two NFC title games and a Super Bowl.

3. Where will the quarterbacks fall? No one really knows. The Buffalo Bills could draft Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib with the No. 8 pick because they may not want to gamble that he'll fall to their second-round pick at No. 41. But if Nassib doesn't go at No. 8, the quarterback free fall could be devastating. After the Bills' pick, every remaining team in the first round, except the Jets, is set with a starting quarterback. And the Jets, with the Nos. 9 and 13 selections, are expected to address other positions. Unlike last year, when Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson established themselves as rookie star quarterbacks, the wow factor is missing from the quarterback class of 2013. Geno Smith of West Virginia may have one of the best arms in this year's draft, but it might take him some time to establish himself in the NFL. Matt Barkley of USC doesn't have a strong arm. Mike Glennon of North Carolina State is a 6-foot-7 pocket passer, but he has been inconsistent. EJ Manuel of Florida State has been rising, but it's debatable how high. Teams toward the bottom of the first round are anticipating trade calls from teams looking for these quarterbacks.

4. Veteran trades: In the past couple of years, not a lot of veterans have been moved during the draft. Still, there are three names to study. The most important is Albert, who was franchise tagged by the Chiefs. The Dolphins are trying to replace left tackle Jake Long, and they know Albert could be had for a second-round choice. The Dolphins had the chance to talk contract with Albert's agents, and both sides know they could make a long-term deal. The Dolphins are willing to give Kansas City their second of two second-rounders, No. 54. The Chiefs might hold out, hoping to get No. 42. Also, two running backs are available. The New Orleans Saints are listening to offers for Chris Ivory. The Jets are interested and willing to give up a fifth-rounder. The Buccaneers are listening to offers for LeGarrette Blount.

5. Trade up, trade down: Expect a lot of movement in this draft. Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said his phones have been busier in trade conversation than he has experienced in most years. The consensus is this draft has seven impact players at the top. Because the draft is deep at several positions, teams might move up and down to get the player of their choice or to stockpile more picks. Last year was busy. There were 26 trades executed in the first 163 picks and only one after that. In 2010, there were 33 draft trades. Expect around 25 or more.

[+] EnlargeKenny Vaccaro
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesTexas' Kenny Vaccaro is considered the best of a strong crop of safeties.

6. Safety has numbers: Normally, safety is one of the thinnest positions on the draft board. This year is different. It's considered one of the best safety classes in years. Kenny Vaccaro of Texas is considered the best, and he could go in the middle of the first round. Eric Reid of LSU is considered the No. 2 safety and could also go in the first round. Matt Elam of Florida is considered a little undersized at 5-foot-10, 208 pounds, but he is a borderline first-round pick. John Cyprien of Florida International has been rising in the past two months.

7. Will San Francisco be the big player in the draft? It might. The 49ers entered the offseason with 14 draft choices. They acquired wide receiver Anquan Boldin and quarterback Colt McCoy in trades, and they still have 13 picks available. Because they are one of the top teams in the NFC, the 49ers don't have roster slots available for 13 rookies. Might they trade up from the 31st pick in the first round to anywhere between 13 and 18 to get a nose tackle or a safety? It's very possible. You know Jim Harbaugh will be moving around picks in the second and third days of the draft to stockpile for next year. With all those picks, the 49ers know teams will take their phone calls.

8. Teams with the biggest needs: Oakland, Jacksonville and the Jets are at the bottom of the league for talent and depth. The Raiders, for example, have eight defensive starters in the final year of their contracts and need plenty of help on offense. Plus, they have only 21 players signed for 2014. They need an exceptional draft. The Jets are totally rebuilding now that they've traded Revis. They are the first team since 2001 to have two picks in the top 13. They have eight draft choices and eight prime needs. The Jets would love to trade down and get more picks. The Jaguars have to decide if they want to take a quarterback in the second or third round after the early failure of Blaine Gabbert. New general manager David Caldwell and first-year coach Gus Bradley are planning on totally reshaping the roster and organization.

9. Figuring out the receivers: Most teams agree that 5-foot-9 Tavon Austin is the most exciting receiver in this draft. Questions dog the rest of the receiver class. Cordarrelle Patterson of Tennessee has a No. 1 receiver body, but teams are concerned about how quickly he will pick up an NFL offense. Keenan Allen of California has struggled with his 40 times. Justin Hunter of Tennessee, DeAndre Hopkins of Clemson, Robert Woods of USC and Terrance Williams of Baylor are options in the first or second round.

10. The Manti Te'o story: It's been a tough 2013 for the Notre Dame linebacker. He had a bad championship game against Alabama. His relationship with a woman who didn't exist caused him to spend a month explaining why he was so naive. He had to overcome a 4.82 40 at the combine. He responded with a 4.7 time at Notre Dame. So will he go in the first round? Maybe. The Baltimore Ravens could take him at No. 32. Don't be surprised if the Vikings use their second first-round pick, No. 25, to take him. Te'o has to hope that none of the teams interested in him trades out of the first round. He is considered the second-best middle linebacker in the draft, behind Alec Ogletree of Georgia.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer