Last year's NFL draft was so loaded with talent that some teams supposedly tanked during the regular season just to move up a few draft spots, spawning the "Suck for Luck" campaign, a reference to eventual number one pick Andrew Luck.
This year though, there's a perceived dearth of top-tier talent. While arguably a deep draft class overall, with a number of decent players further down the board, the lack of blue-chip prospects is leading some to wonder if this draft could be, by historical standards, one of the weakest ever.
"Look at the names of the players projected to go high in the 2013 NFL draft, which begins with Thursday night's first round from New York's Radio City Music Hall," jests The Boston Globe's Michael Whitmer. "Look closer. OK, now look just a little bit closer. Recognize anybody?"
Most notably, this draft lacks a true franchise quarterback. Quarterbacks have gone first overall in the last four drafts, including Luck last year, and Cam Newtown, a Heisman winner, the year before.
This year, West Virginia's Geno Smith is considered the best QB available, but even he comes with plenty of personal baggage, and concerns remain that his skills won't translate well to the pro level. USC's Matt Barkley earned a ton of interest during the college football year, and could have gone high in the draft, but he opted to stick around campus for his senior year.
As a result, teams this offseason have locked up veteran passers rather than roll the dice on an unknown quantity. Kansas City, which holds the number one selection, signed former 49ers QB Alex Smith, with GM John Dorsey telling the Kansas City Star that the team felt there were no quarterbacks in the draft they considered genuine first-rounders. In addition, Oakland, Arizona, and Buffalo — all of whom own top-ten picks — have made moves to shore up their QB situations ahead of the draft.
That lack of sure-fire quarterbacks has a trickle-down effect on the draft as a whole, since it's widely expected that Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel will be the top pick Thursday. As Rant Sports' Kris Highes notes, only two offensive linemen have ever gone first, an indication that teams don't see such players as being glamorous enough to warrant burning a prime pick.
One NFL team executive, citing the scarcity of true impact players, told CBS Sports' Mike Freeman that this could be the weakest draft in a decade.
"There will be 13-15 players picked in the first round that are true first-rounders," the executive said. "That's a fairly low number."
More from Freeman:
What I'm hearing repeatedly from some team personnel men, as the draft gets closer and the honesty increases, is that this draft is subpar. Extremely subpar. Few team personnel want to say anything publicly about the paucity of talent out of fear of hearing from the NFL. There's this thought process that if you criticize the draft, you risk the ire of the NFL; the league doesn't want anyone publicly criticizing the draft out of fear of injuring television ratings...
The problem with this draft, says the general manager, is it possibly lacks two important qualities: Franchise quarterbacks and large swaths of impact players. There will be more than a few solid players, this GM predicts, but not a large number of great ones." [CBS Sports]
That meshes with other criticisms of the draft. John Elway, executive vice president of football operations for the Denver Broncos, said the draft this year wasn't "top-heavy," but that it featured a large number of viable draftees.
"This is probably a deeper draft, but not nearly as many top impact guys," he told the Denver Post.
We won't be able to accurately evaluate this draft class for at least another year, if not longer, as the newbies develop toward their full potential. Still, there is near universal agreement that the draft lacks the can't-miss prospects of drafts past.
"I say it every year, but this time I really mean it: There'll be a mad dash to trade down from the top," says Sports Illustrated's football guru Peter King. "There's no Andrew Luck superstar to froth over, but there's good depth from 10 to 50."
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