Linemen (yawn) to set pace


I’m not sure even Justin Timberlake could bring sexy back to this year’s NFL Draft. Wouldn’t matter, anyway. He would be late to the news conference honoring his achievement.

So much for linemen being the most underappreciated clogs on a football field, a theory that will be annihilated tonight when the first round of the draft takes place in New York.

Suddenly, the league’s long-term future rests on the broad shoulders of not college football’s best quarterback or running back or wide receiver but on guys named Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher and Sharrif Floyd. Linemen, all.

“I don’t remember a year quite like this one, where the best skill players are tight ends,” Las Vegas-based NFL agent Steve Caric said. “I think the general public of NFL fans will find the draft boring, but there will be a lot of movement.

“If you like trades and guys moving, it will be fun to watch. But you’re not going to see many marquee names in the top 10. It will be full of offensive and defensive linemen and maybe a cornerback or two.

“It’s a good draft at the top. There are Pro Bowlers in it, guys who will become very, very good players. But it’s a weak year for the quarterbacks and running backs and receivers. Flat-out weak.”

ESPN and the NFL Network have agreed not to show players prior to commissioner Roger Goodell announcing the picks. No more shots of a guy talking on a cellphone to officials from the team about to select him.

Thank goodness. I don’t want to be robbed of the thrill (nap time) of Goodell telling us which team picking in the top five opts for Brigham Young pass rusher Ezekiel Ansah ...

I still believe more than one quarterback will be taken tonight, when only the first round is executed. It might be a draft in which the safer pick is preferred more and more, but the mere tease of a potential franchise player at the most important position, never mind the fact first-round picks now come at a reduced cost due to the new collective bargaining agreement, is enough to make some general managers jump when others won’t.

Geno Smith from West Virginia and either Matt Barkley from Southern California or Ryan Nassib from Syracuse will have an NFL home before going to sleep tonight. Maybe all three.

Quarterbacks, as flawed as those reportedly are in this draft, still create intrigue. Another skill position likely won’t be as fortunate.

History has a chance to be shattered, given at least one running back has been selected in the first round every year since 1963. But the game continues to evolve away from backs, and none available in this class evoke comparisons to the league’s upper tier.

Eddie Lacy from Alabama and Johnathan Franklin from UCLA are good players. So much for detailed evaluations.

“It’s a points league, and in today’s NFL, running backs just aren’t worth the value of a first-round pick,” Caric said. “Points get ratings, and, at the end of the day, the NFL is trying to produce the most exciting product it can to make the most money.

“The passing game is king. You still should take a really special player high who can make a difference in a lot of ways, an Adrian Peterson or a LaDainian Tomlinson, but there are no such special talents like that right now.

“If I’m stacking a board for this draft, I probably put the running backs lower down so I can get better value with them in the second and third round.”

If you like draft experts failing miserably with their mock picks, you probably will love this draft. Mel Kiper Jr. might miss enough to make a strand of his hair move. That won’t be gel dripping from his forehead under the bright lights, but rather sweat.

With uncertainty in available talent often comes a willingness from teams to move down. One trade can send the first round into a cyclone of surprise choices, but it’s still about what your favorite team does. It always comes back to where those you cheer for most reach.

I suppose then, as a devoted follower of the Cowboys, I should make myself exhaustively familiar with the likes of Sheldon Richardson of Missouri or Sylvester Williams of North Carolina, two of the better defensive linemen who still might be awaiting a telephone call at the 18th pick.

It wouldn’t be your typical knock-over-furniture-from-pure-elation sort of draft moment, but it would fill that proverbial need general managers like to talk about this time of year. Maybe that’s all most can hope for tonight and as the remaining rounds play out Friday and Saturday.

Timberlake brought sexy back with a song, but even he would struggle finding much to get excited about with this draft.

On a side note, I wonder if he ever bought a watch ...

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.