By Zac Bellman
In the modern NFL era, pass first offenses, the read option, and elite tight ends are affecting the way certain teams handle their personnel decisions. That was very evident in the way many teams made their selections in the 2013 NFL Draft this past week. Certain positions were valued much higher than others this year, because they contribute to the success of the quarterback, or prevent the other team’s quarterback from making big plays. Here are four positions that were affected by the revolution of the game of football in recent years.
Wide receiver: Today’s NFL requires most teams to have an elite quarterback with a variety of weapons to compliment him in order to win. Three teams picked up wide receivers in the first round, and two of them traded up to get the one they wanted. The Rams acquired the eighth pick to grab Tavon Austin in front of the Jets, the Vikings traded four picks to get back into the first round and draft Cordarrelle Patterson, and the Texans picked up DeAndre Hopkins at the 27th pick. The Rams had several big targets for Quarterback Sam Bradford, but no true “slot receiver” who can stretch the middle of the defense and exploit mismatches with linebackers and nickel corners. A few years ago, a 5-foot-8, 174 pound wide out might have been a head scratcher, but with the emergence of playmakers like Percy Harvin (5’11”) and Randall Cobb (5’10”) in recent seasons, short, quick pass catchers with return ability are on the rise.
Running back: According to the Washington Post, not a single running back was taken in the first round for the first time since 1963. I don’t need to give the gas prices, popular movies, or president at that time to emphasize how much the game has evolved in the last few years to undo half a century of running backs being considered first round commodities. The first running back drafted was Giovani Bernard with the 37th overall pick. The consensus number one running back available this year was Eddie Lacy, and he fell to the Packers at the 61st pick due to mild injury concerns. Experts have been speaking to the devaluing of the position over the last few years, but it appears the transition to a passing dominated league is now complete.
Quarterback: Despite the pass first mantra that is taking the league by storm, only one quarterback was taken in the first round, E.J. Manuel. Matt Barkley, the quarterback that many predicted would be a top ten selection even after a shoulder injury this past season, slipped to the first pick of the fourth round. The Manuel pick is a reflection of the fact that the NFL just witnessed a read-option quarterback lead his team to the Super Bowl last year. Robert Griffin the third and Russell Wilson are other young read-option quarterbacks that flexed this ability last year. Teams in need of a field general such as the Bills and Jets drafted mobile quarterbacks like Manuel and Geno Smith respectively due to this trend in the game.
Tackle: Ron Jaworski said late in the first round during ESPN’s draft coverage that the selections made reflected “the importance of that seven yards behind the line of scrimmage.” What he was referring to was protecting the quarterback. Nine offensive linemen were drafted in the first round this year, with three of the first four picks being tackles. For teams without a quarterback who can protect themselves by scrambling outside of the pocket, it is more critical for the guys up front to provide that protection. The unusually high number of them drafted as early as they were this year is evidence of a changing NFL landscape.
This will be the final Whole Nine Yards column of the year. Look for it to return next year as a fantasy advice column once again. Thank you to all the viewers who made this column what it was all year long. Follow @ZacBellman_WNY for NFL updates throughout the offseason.