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Where Have All The Skill Players Gone?

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Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images.
Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images.

Defense, as they say, might win championships, and quarterbacks and runners sell tickets. But when the shouting and hugging was done after Thursday night’s first round of the NFL Draft, one had to wonder about the disappearing act of offensive skill players.

Just a year removed from one of the great quarterback hauls in history, this year’s 32 first round selections offered the names of only five players from the so-called skill pool. At that, every one of those skilled players carries at least a small question mark.

After the predicted run on the three-headed offensive tackle corps was completed within the first four picks, the Rams used the eighth pick to choose lightning-quick West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin. Lots of teams seemed to covet Austin, but others were concerned about his slight frame. 

E.J. Manuel of Florida State became the only quarterback to go in the opening round when Buffalo tapped him at No. 16. He may do well in the Bills’ offense, but most experts had him going no higher than the second round. Indeed, the only possible first-round passers seemed to be West Virginia’s Geno Smith, USC’s Matt Barkley and Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib. All three are hoping for a call on Friday.

Tyler Eifert seems to be a good fit for the Bengals, who selected the Notre Dame tight end at No. 21.  Along with Jermaine Gresham, Cincinnati may have a terrific duo of downfield threats out of the tight end position, but if Bengals fans are hoping for an end to bulldoze defensive linemen on third-and-short, they ought to look elsewhere.

Wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins of Clemson and Cordarrelle Patterson of Tennessee went to Houston and Minnesota, respectively, near the bottom of the round. Each could be a hit with teams that need them, especially one-year-wonder Patterson, as the Vikings desperately require a replacement for departed flyer Percy Harvin. But, each pass-catcher is a bit raw, a potentially bothersome trait for many of this year’s first rounders, offense or defense.

Running back is slowly becoming as extinct in the first round as the typewriter, or rotary phone. Over the last decade or so, too many teams have been burned by big-contract flops while an army of runners has succeeded from lower levels of the draft.

Alabama’s Eddie Lacy might have gone Thursday night in the first round. So too, Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell. Certainly, the Packers, for example, had a need for one or the other, but like most teams Green Bay looked to defense.  he Packers tapped UCLA defensive tackle Datone Jones.

Not so many years ago, it was heresy to suggest an offensive guard should go in the opening round. On Thursday, there were two interior blockers taken in the top 10: North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper (Arizona) and Alabama’s Chance Warmack (Tennessee).

Maybe those guys lining up at the line of scrimmage could sell some tickets, too.