Redskins on sideline, but still plenty of first-round intrigue in NFL draft Thursday night

April 24, 2013

The first-round fate of Manti Te’o will be a closely followed storyline Thursday night in the NFL draft (Winslow Townson/Associated Press)

NFL DRAFT PREVIEW | The first round of the NFL draft arrives Thursday with the Washington Redskins watching idly from the sideline, barring an unexpected trade, but still with plenty of intrigue, including the ongoing drama of whether Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o will be selected on the draft’s opening night.

The conventional wisdom about how things will unfold in the first round is that there is no conventional wisdom. Executives with multiple NFL teams said in recent days they continued to expect Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel to be chosen by the Kansas City Chiefs with the top overall pick. But even that was less than a certainty, they acknowledged. And beyond that, it seemed, those in NFL front offices were finding this draft as difficult to predict as practically everyone else is.

It is a draft with a shortage of marquee players, especially at quarterback. But that doesn’t mean it is a draft lacking talented players. Experts have said there are plenty of good players to be found, right through the middle rounds at certain positions.

“I think wide receiver, I think safety and I think tight end that, in those middle rounds, you can get a really good player,” Buffalo Bills General Manager Buddy Nix said at his team’s pre-draft news conference last week.

Thomas Dimitroff, the general manager of the Atlanta Falcons, said at the NFL scouting combine: “It’s a nice group of defensive players. Both lines, offensively and defensively, there are a number of players that can be impactful for a lot of teams. It’s a nice safety group.”

Te’o is not among the 23 players scheduled to be on hand Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall in New York City for the opening round. But whether or not he is chosen in the first round will be a closely followed storyline.

He was widely regarded as a virtually certain first-rounder before his disappointing showing against Alabama in the collegiate national championship game and the highly scrutinized hoax involving a girlfriend that turned out never to have existed. How much those issues have hurt his draft stock, if at all, has been debated relatively fiercely. There has been recent conjecture that the most logical landing spots for Te’o if he is to be taken Thursday night are the Chicago Bears on the 20th pick, the Minnesota Vikings on the 23rd or 25th choice or the Baltimore Ravens on the 32nd selection.

“We like him,” Nix said. “We went to see him. All of us, I think, have been in there to see him. …He had a great season. He is going to be a good player. I think he is one of the top three or four linebackers in the draft inside.”

There could be an early run on offensive tackles. Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher is another contender for the Chiefs’ top pick. Joeckel, Fisher and Okalahoma’s Lane Johnson are likely to go in the top 10, and perhaps all in the top five.

The quarterbacks are a different story. A year after the Indianapolis Colts chose Andrew Luck first overall and the Redskins took Robert Griffin III second to launch what became the year of the rookie quarterback in the NFL, no quarterback seems to be a sure thing to be a first-round pick. There has been some speculation that it’s possible zero quarterbacks will be taken on Thursday, which would be the first time since 1996 that that has happened.

But those at the sport’s most prominent position sometimes have a way of being selected far earlier than forecasted, and draft observers aren’t ruling out a quarterback or two coming off the board as soon as the top 10. West Virginia’s Geno Smith is considered the top available quarterback by some draft observers. But the Bills, who have the eighth overall pick, could opt to reunite Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib with the head coach they just hired from the school, Doug Marrone.

The New York Jets, too, could be in the quarterback market, possessing two of the draft’s top 13 selections after trading cornerback Darrelle Revis to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last weekend for the 13th choice.

“There’s talent in this group,” Dimitroff said at the combine of the available quarterbacks. “It’s just a matter of assessing where those talents are and how you can use whatever the talent is when you do draft them, and how you navigate that. … You can take a quarterback in this draft, and put him in the right situation, with the right approach, and you can win a lot of games. The actual strength of this quarterback group? I always say let’s see how this pans out. Fortunately for us right now, we’re not looking for a quarterback. We have a quarterback [Matt Ryan] that will hopefully be with us for a long, long time. But. … there are some good quarterbacks in this group.”

The Redskins are without a first-round choice, having dealt it to the St. Louis Rams last year as part of the trade to move up in the draft order to get Griffin. The Redskins have a total of seven picks in the second through seventh rounds Friday and Saturday. A trade to get a first-round pick is possible. But that seems like a long shot, given the assessments that this draft will be strong in the second and third rounds.

There are reports of a variety of teams, including several of those near the top of the first-round order, being far more interested in trading down than in trading up.

The Rams have the draft’s 16th and 22nd overall picks, having gotten No. 22 from the Redskins. They potentially could use one of them on Alabama running back Eddie Lacy to replace their departed veteran tailback, Steven Jackson. If they or anyone else takes Lacy on Thursday, it would keep intact a streak of at least one running back being chosen in the first round in every draft since 1963. There are no other running backs considered likely first-rounders.

More on the NFL draft:

Unlike 2012, this is not the year of the quarterback

Ex-U-Va. QB Lalich makes his third chance count, and has an NFL shot

Two tries at a mocking the 2013 NFL draft

The Early Lead: NFL increases security for draft in New York

The Post’s position previews: Safety | offensive line | cornerbacks | running backs | inside linebackers | wide receivers | pass-rushers | tight ends | defensive line

Team-by-team draft needs | Prospect reports, sortable by position & school

Opening Kick: Trade a pick this year for a better one next year?

Associated Press: Ten things to watch for at the NFL draft

Former Arundel star Lemon hopes his name is called on Saturday

More Redskins coverage from The Post:

Shanahan says Redskins are prepared for multiple draft scenarios

Small chance Redskins trade into first round, Shanahan says

Opening Kick: How much draft movement can we expect from the Redskins?

Post Sports Live (video): What should the Redskins’ draft strategy be?

D.C. Sports Bog: Redskins the fifth-worst drafting team, according to ESPN the Magazine

Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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