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Grade A beef tops menu at NFL draft

Big boys on the lines will be first choices

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NEW YORK -- Bring on the behemoths.

The guys who throw the football usually dominate the spotlight heading into the NFL draft. This year, it's the big bodies who protect those prized quarterbacks who are front and centre.

As are the players whose main purpose is to find the QB and get him on the ground.

What the 2013 draft might lack in glamour -- no Andrew Luck, RG3 or Trent Richardson -- it balances out with beef. Don't be shocked if the first four names called Thursday night by commissioner Roger Goodell come from the trenches: tackles Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M and Eric Fisher of Central Michigan; defensive end Dion Jordan of Oregon; and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd of Florida.

Kansas City will begin the selections, and new coach Andy Reid believes there's so much focus on offensive tackles because there's no other clear-cut No. 1 prospect.

"This is what I think: They've been fairly safe picks over the years," Reid said. "So if it comes down to equal here or there, and you have to choose, it might be a fairly safe pick. The percentages, with that position -- you evaluate the success rate with all the positions, you'll come back to the offensive line and say, 'Yeah, that's a fairly safe pick, offensive tackle.' "

It has become even more critical to have strong pass protectors as the NFL has developed into a throw-it-all-over-the-place league. Now the Chiefs acquired Alex Smith as their starting quarterback, they want to ensure his health. Having the highest-rated 2013 draft prospect as an insurance policy is a good fit.

Reid's former boss, Eagles GM Howie Roseman, owns the fourth spot on Thursday. Philadelphia isn't exactly loaded on either line.

"There are some really talented offensive linemen in this draft," Roseman said. "This is a really a meat and potatoes draft, certainly early in the first couple of rounds with linemen, which is exciting. It may not be the flashiest thing, but it's exciting. It's hard to find big guys who can move, play with power, and there are a lot of guys in this draft."

Such as tackles Lane Johnson of Oklahoma, D.J. Fluker of Alabama and Menelik Watson of Florida State; guards Chance Warmack of Alabama, Jonathan Cooper of North Carolina and Larry Warford of Kentucky; centres Barrett Jones of Alabama and Travis Frederick of Wisconsin, both of whom can play guard; DEs Bjoern Werner of Florida State, Damontre Moore, of Texas A&M, Ziggy Ansah of BYU and Barkevious Mingo of LSU; and DTs Jesse Williams of Alabama, Star Lotulelei of Utah and Sheldon Richardson of Missouri.

To Roseman, the blockers are especially prized this year.

"When you're in the college game, and you're an offensive lineman, you're doing all the same things you're going to have to do in the NFL game," he said. "So maybe the projection's a little easier and, again, it's hard to find guys who are this size, this weight, this athletic ability, this length."

Ansah (Ghana), Williams (Australia), Werner (Germany), SMU's Margus Hunt (Estonia) and Watson (England) all bring an unprecedented international flavour to the early rounds.


-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 21, 2013 B11

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