NEW YORK — The first round of the NFL draft last night at Radio City Music Hall was like another harbinger of spring, when the circus arrives at Madison Square Garden and the elephants parade down 34th Street late at night.
In this case, the “dance of the elephants,” as former Giants general manager George Young once described it, involved a series of offensive and defensive linemen heading to the podium to engulf NFL commissioner Roger Goodell with a congratulatory hug. It began with Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher nosing out Texas A&M tackle Eric Joeckel for the No. 1 pick by Kansas City.
Joeckel settled for the No. 2 slot with Jacksonville as NFL teams loaded up with beef. It wasn’t as exciting as last year when marquee quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III went 1-2, but it was historic when three of the first four picks were offensive tackles, including Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson going No. 4 to Philadelphia.
“That’s awesome,” Fisher said of the run on tackles. “Three tackles in four picks. That’s a lot of love for the big boys up front, which we usually don’t get. It’s been a great competition with these tackles. It always kept me hungry. I wanted to be No. 1 in this, and the fact that it just happened is just awesome.”
Six offensive linemen were chosen with the first 11 picks, including North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper at No. 7 by Arizona and the Alabama pair of guard Chance Warmack and tackle D.J. Fluker going No. 10 and No. 11 to Tennessee and San Diego, respectively.
Of the first 14 picks, only three — West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin (No. 8, St. Louis), Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner (No. 9 Jets) and Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden (No. 12, Oakland) — were not linemen.
Five defensive linemen also were drafted in that stretch, including Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan going No. 3 to Miami, which traded up with Oakland, BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah No. 5 to Detroit, LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo No. 6 to Cleveland, Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson No. 13 to the Jets and Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei No. 14 to Carolina.
Except for the Jets’ picks and the Giants’ selection of Syracuse offensive tackle Justin Pugh at No. 19, the loudest cheer might have been reserved for Buffalo, which traded down from No. 8 to No. 16 and made Florida State’s EJ Manuel the first quarterback of the draft.
But this clearly was not a year for the skill positions. As new Eagles tackle Johnson said, “ Tackle is not a sexy position, but it’s a position in dire need. When you have a good, solid offensive line, it really can benefit a team as far as passing the ball and running.”
That is basic football, but this was the first time it actually played out that way on draft boards across the NFL. Johnson said he thought he was a third-rounder at the end of the season, but his stock rose at the Senior Bowl. Joeckel was the consensus No. 1 in most mock drafts until the very end when Fisher overtook him.