By Steve Silvermam-
(CBS) This is a draft like few others.
When Roger Goodell starts calling out names Thursday night, you are not going to hear anything like you heard last year when the Indianapolis Colts selected Andrew Luck with the first pick and the Washington Redskins took Robert Griffin III with the second pick.
To say that this draft is lacking in quarterbacks is an understatement. When the first round is completed, Geno Smith of West Virginia is likely to be the only quarterback drafted. Smith is the best of a bad lot this year, and he’s not anything close to Luck or RGIII. Instead, he’s more like Jake Locker and will probably be a “project.”
Not only is the draft lacking in quarterbacks, it’s down on running backs as well. If you think you are going to hear the name of a game-breaking running back going early in the first round, forget about it.
You probably won’t hear any running back taken until the midway point of the second round when powerful Eddie Lacy of Alabama finally comes off the board.
Wide receivers will go, but not until the middle of the first round. Four or five wide receivers –led by Tavon Austin of West Virginia and Cordarelle Patterson of Tennessee — will get selected by the time the Ravens make the last pick in the first round.
There is little doubt that the so-called skill-position talent level is not at its highest level this year. However, the offensive and defensive linemen are well-represented.
Starting with Luke Joeckel, an athletic offensive tackle from Texas A&M and adding Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher, you have a couple of sensational tackles who are going to be able to come into an NFL camp and start from Day One and possibly become All-Pro candidates much sooner than coaches are used to seeing from offensive line prospects.
Lane Johnson of Oklahoma is close to that level.
On the defensive side, the stars are a pair of defensive tackles. Sharrif Floyd is an explosive defensive tackle from Florida who can rip through the double team and cause havoc in the pocket. Star Lotulelei of Utah can also play the run and punish opposing quarterbacks.
Defensive end Ziggy Ansah of Brigham Young has a chance to be spectacular, but there are some flaws to his game that make him a much more risky selection. He has all the speed and quickness that the position requires, but you have to wonder if he has the strength to take on the initial block and respond.
NFL scouts and personnel men have always talked about the building-block positions on offense and defense. If you can’t block, you can’t protect the quarterback. If you can’t rush the quarterback, your cover men are exposed.
This is the year that general managers will put those words into practice.
Much of that is because there aren’t any of the dominant skill-position players that we have seen for the last decade.
One word about Smith: He is not a miracle worker at quarterback. If he was, the Chiefs would be using the No. 1 pick to bring him aboard. He is fairly athletic with a strong enough arm to make all the throws required. He will also check down to secondary receivers when his main targets are covered.
That’s a good thing. There are plenty of negatives. It appears that he gets nervous and loses confidence when he faces early pressure. While he will see the first blitzer, he won’t see the second one and that makes him vulnerable to sacks, tipped passes and fumbles. When those mistakes come early in a game, he has not shown the ability to put bad plays behind him.
Can a team with a stellar offensive coordinator or quarterback coach make a difference? Possibly. But there are too many problems with his game to think that he will become an elite NFL quarterback. Drafting Smith is a gamble.
One of the other reasons that quarterbacks will go later in this draft is the Russell Wilson factor. He was selected in the third round last year by the Seahawks and he was sensational. He was as good or better than Luck and RGIII last year and the Seahawks were just a couple of plays away from the winning the NFC West and going on a long run in the playoffs.
Wilson may find it hard to keep up with Luck and RGIII throughout their careers. However, even though he lacks size at 5-11 and 205 pounds, he gets away from the rush, finds excellent throwing lanes and puts the ball in a place his receivers can catch it.
The great Wilson lesson is that you don’t need to have prototype size to play quarterback. Having a mountain like Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback is an advantage, but it is not a necessity.
That lesson is not necessarily going to come into play this year. Quarterbacks like Matt Barkley of USC, Ryan Nassib of Syracuse and E.J. Manuel of Florida State all have flaws. Barkley has taken a ton of physical abuse and lacks a deep arm, Nassib makes questionable reads and Manuel takes too long to get rid of the ball.
Quarterbacks are lacking and skill-position players are down. It’s time to load up on the building blocks of the game.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.