The 2013 edition of the NFL draft produced immense numbers of surprises, but most of them were of the negative variety. The first round really told the whole story. The later rounds just tied up some loose ends.
It wasn't the most dazzling first round, but it sure wasn't predictable either. While last season's top two picks were cast in stone long before the draft, this season's were both offensive tackles. The team picking first, Kansas City, ate the entire clock making a decision. Were they entertaining trade offers? This year it doesn't seem likely.
Was this really the year of the irresistible offensive lineman (6 OTs, 2 OGs and 1 C), or is that just a barometer that tells you NFL evaluators had decided by consensus that this year was a skill desert? One clue might come from New England. Always known for trading down, Bill Belichick dumped the 29th pick to the Vikings for four lower picks (including their 2nd rounder). With the Patriots ranked #1 on Cold, Hard Football Facts' Offensive Hog Index, it's no mystery what he would have done with the #1 pick. He might not have gotten more for it, either. It was a great trade for New England as the Vikings chose to continue their rebuilding program via the first round with 3 high picks. Now, all they have to do is sign them somehow. There's not much question what the mastermind of New England thought of the draft pool, despite seemingly strong needs for both a wideout and DB from a first round that produced a number of both. It's possible he had one or two targets that were snapped up. That would explain the late trade. But it tells you clearly that this draft had a very short --- maybe nonexistent --- elite list.
Is this really the age of the read-option 'athletic' quarterback? Or even of the young quarterback, period? Tell that to Geno Smith, the Brady Quinn of 2013. The first round was stunningly void of QBs --- well, except for E.J. Manuel, the DE-sized signal caller from FSU. No one considered him first-round material, let alone #16. Leave it to Buffalo. But, disregarding that coup, you could almost see the snubs coming with the mad flurry of quarterback dealing that dominated free-agency news. Everyone seemed to want an old pro. Or even just a pro. Anybody but a draftee. The Patriots got peppered with offers for Ryan Mallett even during the draft, with every QB but Manuel still available. You have to wonder if Barkley and Jones are kicking themselves for staying in school. Both wound up in a year when they weren't snowed under by phenoms, and it still didn't help. In the 1-year big picture, theirs were the most shocking falls.
In a shorter timeframe, Geno Smith's flame wasn't the only one to flicker. Manti Te'o, despite a great comment on NFLN as the Bears prepared for the 20th pick ("Will it be Hawaii 2-0 with Te'o?") was left in the lurch too, this despite everyone feeling he'd be a predictable cure for defense-first Chicago's case of Urlacheritis. But da Bears, like so many others, went with an OT in Kyle Long, another member of Howie's tribe. In their case it was probably a good choice. Their playoff chances are directly linked to a vertical Jay Cutler. Maybe they're getting the idea. It's taken painful proof.
The Cowboys got in on the festivities by trading their #18 pick to the Niners for the 31st pick plus a third-rounder. With that pick they took... a center? Wisconsin's Frederick may prove an NFL mainstay for all we know, but the Boys seemed to have pressing needs elsewhere. The Niners, meanwhile, addressed a free-agency hole in the secondary with highly regarded LSU safety Eric Reid. The Niners came in with an absurd 13 picks.
The Rams were another winner, it seems, filling the hole left by Amendola with explosive Tavon Austin from UWV, then grabbing Georgia's Ogletree to bolster a defense that already led the NFL in sacks. They already have a team that can play with anybody in the NFCW (4-1-1 last season). Now they need to learn how to beat somebody else. Might be coming. SF and Seattle may not be running away with the division after all. The RG3 trade bonanza is paying off.
Finally, the Jets are worth mentioning. Aren't they always? With a mystery offense (as in "What offense??"), they signed Alabama CB Milliner to replace the departed Revis with #9, then took Missouri DT Richardson with #13. Good players, but fans may already be googling when the last 0-0 tie took place.
The most interesting angle to all this is still the quarterback situation. This was supposed to be the nexus of the coming-out party for the read option. Colleges are going to it in droves. Big fast players with good arms are easier to find than classic field generals, and in high school and college it works. The media have been hyping it to death. Yet is it a trend, or were Cam Newton, RG3 and Colin Kaepernick just so good at the entirety of the position that they made it seem that way? Granted, this draft had no Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin, but lots of drafts don't have Lucks or Griffins. Maybe the league saturated itself in a quarterback drafting frenzy over the past few seasons? Maybe the league is having second thoughts about the great revolution at the position? Maybe all of the above? Maybe none? What to think.
And again, what about Matt Barkley and Landry Jones? Toss in Ryan Nassib? As alluded before, the first two were among the elite a year ago, almost certain first rounders even with Luck and Griffin owning the top spots. Their motivations for staying in school are unknown, but if either had anything to do with edging higher in the first round amid diluted competition, it wasn't a good career move. As of the end of the third round, neither was taken. Neither was Nassib, who by the end of 2012 was considered the top pocket passer in the draft.
Smith and Te'o, both first round mystery orphans, went in the second round, Te'o to a likely productive career in San Diego where he's already being compared to Junior Seau (SD has a fixation with the South Pacific). That may be a reach, but his situation looks worlds better than that of Smith who, despite the media hype, not only remains a question mark in terms of his NFL capabilities (see Pat White) but also finds himself in a 'competition' with Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow, David Garrard, and Greg McElroy. At least that's the current word from the Jets, who gave Mark Sanchez a huge contract and then proceeded, instead of looking for new weapons to help their highly paid veteran of two AFCC games, to give him four 'competitors'.
It could be argued that Jones and Barkley have their less-than-scintillating senior campaigns to blame for their respective falls from grace, and it makes sense. Barkley's tossing his embattled coach under the bus couldn't have helped his cause, even though he was probably right. Or have Sanchez and Leinart poisoned USC's reputation as a pro quarterback factory? Perhaps Nassib, out of Syracuse, was considered too much of a reach. And Manuel's first round selection is something of a throwaway aberration in any analysis.
Still, the only two QBs selected in the first three rounds were not pure pocket passers. The three biggest such entrants went unchosen at all. It could be argued that run-option is still gaining steam. But if so, it's not much steam. The fourth round saw teams jump at the remaining fallen first-rounders, and at bargain prices.
It seems most likely that the lack of general respect for this year's QB crop along with (1) the saturation of the position in the last few drafts and (2) doubt among the front offices as to the fate of the rule book have combined to produce a perfect storm that swept this year's QB class out to sea. Will the league make running QBs fair game in the open field, eliminating the slide and the sideline liberties? Or will it make them even more untouchable? One false move could nearly obsolete an entire class of quarterbacks. Of course, a few false moves in the false name of either 'player safety' or 'excitement' could obsolete the entire game as we know it. My take? We already can watch Canadian football if we want to.
Speaking of player safety, there's one more factor in why this largely became a hawg draft. Injuries have skyrocketed in recent years. The big guys take the biggest pounding. Depth is a must. You can only carry so many skill players, especially quarterbacks. It's not like it wasn't an offensive draft. But this year the linemen, the real core of any offense, got their due.
The final factor in analyzing the form of this year's draft can be seen in the quarterback pattern. Teams went haywire pre-draft soaking up loose veteran QBs. With some exceptions, most franchises may have sensed a talent glut at a number of positions throughout the league, and an unexciting draft class may have suffered the consequences. Or maybe it was all perfectly normal. Despite this supposed new age of football, it certainly looked like a draft from long ago. In a more stable era, linemen and linebackers were frequently the top dogs of a draft. Skill players, and especially quarterbacks, were regarded with very critical eyes. Except for the occasional Namath, most were drafted as possible backup/apprentices if at all. Even Norm Van Brocklin was drafted to back up Bob Waterfield. Perhaps the last few years were the aberration, not this one?