For only the second time in the past 16 years, the debate at the top of the NFL Draft doesn't involve a quarterback.
"This is a really a meat and potatoes draft, certainly early in the first couple of rounds with linemen, which is exciting," said Howie Roseman, general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles, who hold the fourth overall pick. "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."
Only two of the 23 prospects ticketed to attend the 2013 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York City are quarterback, and neither Geno Smith of West Virginia nor Florida State's EJ Manuel is considered an option for the Kansas City Chiefs with the No. 1 overall pick.
Starting with the Chiefs and their debuting brain trust of coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey, a run on offensive tackles might be the story of Thursday night. The Jacksonville Jaguars own the second pick and also have a first-year team at coach, Gus Bradley, and general manager. David Caldwell, 39, is the second-youngest general manager in the NFL behind Roseman (37).
Texas A&M junior Luke Joeckel and Central Michigan's Eric Fisher are ranked 1-2 overall by NFLDraftScout.com. Oklahoma's Lane Johnson, another left tackle, and Alabama junior right tackle D.J. Fluker could also be chosen in the top 20. Joeckel would be the first Texas A&M player drafted No. 1 overall. No Mid-American Conference player has been selected earlier in the first round than Byron Leftwich. Jacksonville drafted Leftwich seventh in 2003.
In the past 15 years, only once has an offensive tackle been drafted No. 1: Michigan's Jake Long was taken first by the Miami Dolphins in 2008.
"They've been fairly safe picks over the years," said Reid, an offensive guard at BYU with 13 seasons of experience coaching offensive linemen before he was hired by the Eagles in 1999. "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."
The Chiefs would prefer to offload their current left tackle, Branden Albert, via trade to recoup the second-round pick dealt to San Francisco to acquire quarterback Alex Smith. Reid's draft history in 14 years as Eagles head coach and personnel chief hints that defensive linemen aren't to be ruled out. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (Florida), defensive end Dion Jordan (Oregon) and defensive end Ziggy Ansah (BYU) are the top-rated linemen by NFLDraftScout.com.
Smith has met with the Chiefs and all three teams immediately behind Kansas City on the draft board -- Jacksonville, Oakland and Philadelphia -- along with the Cleveland Browns (sixth), Arizona Cardinals (seventh) and Buffalo Bills (eighth). Dorsey has repeated that the 2013 quarterback class, in stark contrast to the 2012 draft that produced Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin and Ryan Tannehill in the top 10, doesn't feature an obvious first-round talent. Denver Broncos vice president John Elway was blunt in his own assessment of the crop.
"I'm just glad we're not in that market," he said, "let's put it that way."
If an offensive lineman goes No. 1 for the fourth time since 1968, it would be only the third time in 13 years that a quarterback wasn't the top pick.
Smith, Manuel, Southern Cal's Matt Barkley and Syracuse's Ryan Nassib all are viewed as top 50 picks, but none a lock to be off the board before Friday's second round begins. Smith said he wouldn't get caught up in what armchair general managers believe will happen.
"Just want to thank all those so called 'experts' who say I can't be an NFL QB," Smith tweeted on Monday. "Thursday will be a special day, but the work has only begun."
Notre Dame All-American middle linebacker Manti Te'o has been grilled mercilessly by media and downgraded for running the 40-yard dash in the 4.7-4.8-second range. Others wonder if peripheral -- at least, non-football -- "issues" might steer talent evaluators in another direction.
Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, in the market for an inside linebacker after losing Ray Lewis to retirement and Dannell Ellerbe in free agency, challenged the notion that Te'o should take a character hit based on the girlfriend hoax and immediate aftermath at Notre Dame.
"What is the issue?" Newsome asked last week. "Is that beating women? Is that using drugs? Is it DUI? How do you clarify that? I couldn't."
Adding to the unpredictable nature of the draft Thursday is the turnover at decision-making positions in the top 11. The Chiefs, Jaguars, Eagles, Browns, Cardinals, Bills, Jets and Chargers are operating with a first-year head coach and/or general manager.
First-year Jets general manager John Idzik holds the ninth and 13th picks in the first round, the latter the net return in the Darrelle Revis trade Sunday. Idzik denies there's any added pressure being a rookie holding the draft-day gavel.
"I don't think it's more pressure with any one decision," he said. "It's just an axiom in football; we're all grinders at heart, and part of the grind is being prepared. When you're going through the final stages of draft preparation, this is a culmination of over a year of evaluating these guys. It's a culmination of evaluating your roster (and) the status of certain players on the roster. When you feel like you've thoroughly researched everything, I don't know that it's pressure."