Playing on the offensive line is about as unglamorous as it gets in professional football. Nobody pays much attention to the guys in the...
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.
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The Kansas City Chiefs could make it three 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 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 has 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.
It didn’t come down to the last minute a year ago. The Colts revealed on Tuesday of draft week that they were selecting quarterback Andrew Luck first overall, and that allowed some of the dominoes to start falling. The Redskins traded up to nab quarterback Robert Griffin III, and the draft was off and running.
That won’t be the case this year, partly because there’s no QB worth the No. 1 pick.
Players at the game’s most vital position have been chosen first overall four straight years, and 10 of the past 12. And the Chiefs probably would have made it five straight if there was someone worth the pick. Instead, they traded with San Francisco to acquire Alex Smith.
Joeckel won the Outland Trophy as the nation’s top interior lineman after protecting Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel so successfully last season. Fisher was a third-team All-American who shot up draft boards with an eye-opening performance at the scouting combine.
• Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan indicated he’s going to be more cautious with franchise quarterback Griffin from now on, to the point that he’s going to make sure that Griffin “never plays if he’s not 100 percent.”
Griffin, the league’s offensive rookie of the year, is recovering from reconstructive surgery after reinjuring his right knee in a playoff loss to the Seahawks.
• Goodell said he met with Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam about the federal investigation into his family’s truck-stop chain. The NFL vets all prospective owners, but Goodell said the league couldn’t have known about the investigation before Haslam bought the team last year unless the FBI had chosen to share that information.
• The Arizona Cardinals signed four players, including former Seahawks offensive lineman Paul Fanaika.