KANSAS CITY, Mo.— Playing on the offensive line is about as unglamorous as it gets in professional football.
Nobody pays much attention to the guys in the trenches until flags are flying. They spend Sunday afternoons getting punched, kicked and thrown to the turf, their fingers smashed and their face masks twisted — not to mention whatever goes on at the bottom of those piles.
The best offensive tackle will never be as valuable as, say, the best quarterback, and rarely does one of the guys up front stoke the passions of a fan base weary of losing.
So perhaps it’s no surprise that since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, only twice has an offensive lineman been selected first overall in the draft — Orlando Pace in 1997 and Jake Long in 2008.
The Kansas City Chiefs could make it three on Thursday night.
In a draft without a top-end talent at quarterback and no clear-cut No. 1 prospect regardless of position, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to call out the name of one of two offensive tackles — Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M or Eric Fisher of Central Michigan — after Kansas City hands in its selection at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
“Last year, people picking at the top of the draft were looking for quarterbacks. And fortunately, they were there,” said former NFL coach Jon Gruden, now an analyst with ESPN. “If you’re looking for a left tackle this year, you’re a lucky guy.”
The Chiefs insist that they’re not necessarily looking for a left tackle; they’re looking for the best available player, and Joeckel and Fisher happen to fit the bill.
But it helps the cause of both Joeckel and Fisher — or maybe even Lane Johnson, an offensive tackle from Oklahoma — that Kansas City could be unsettled at the position by draft night.
The Chiefs placed the franchise tag on left tackle Branden Albert, and he’s signed the tender worth about $9.3 million for next season. But they’ve also granted the Dolphins permission to speak with Albert’s representatives, and it’s becoming increasingly likely that a trade will happen.
That would make the selection of left tackle an obvious choice.
Johnson is the only state player expected to go in the first round and is a likely top 10 pick. Super Bowl champion Baltimore, which doesn’t pick until last in the first round, is rumored to be considering a trade up to grab Johnson. OU’s Landry Jones is considered a mid-round pick at quarterback and safety Tony Jefferson could sneak into the late first round.
Oklahoma State running back Joseph Randle and punter Quinn Sharp and Oklahoma wide receiver Kenny Stills are on mid- to late-round draft boards.
Two area players who are draft longshots are a pair of Muskogee Roughers — Oklahoma’s Stacy McGee and wide receiver Shjuan Richardson. McGee will have to overcome some off-field issues that got him knocked off the roster for the Cotton Bowl this past season after having served an early-season suspension. Richardson, an MIAA standout at Emporia State, was invited to the NFL Super Regional Combine at Cowboys Stadium earlier this month.
While the Chiefs lead off the draft, the Dallas Cowboys sit at No. 18 this year, possibly too low for an immediate upgrade needed for the offensive line. While there is a theory that a draft short on elite talent makes it a good idea to surrender picks to grab one of the top prospects, the Cowboys seem to be leaning the other way.
If so, they would do well to remember their disastrous “special teams” draft of 2009, the last time Dallas focused on stockpiling picks. Not one player remains from the class.
NFL draft order
1. Kansas City
9. N.Y. Jets
11. San Diego
13. N.Y. Jets (from Tampa Bay)
15. New Orleans
16. St. Louis
19. N.Y. Giants
22. St. Louis (from Washington)
25. Minnesota (from Seattle)
26. Green Bay
29. New England
31. San Francisco