While the first round of the 2013 NFL draft is where dreams come true for young men fresh out of college, it's also the place where they're crushed with a mallet.
Where players like Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel can spend the night celebrating their newfound millions with family members, there are others who saw their Brinks truck walk out the door. Thirty-two selections were made on Thursday night, each of which came without these young men hearing their name called by commissioner Roger Goodell.
For some, this disappointment was expected. Those who weren't pegged as potential first-rounders—those happy-to-be-mentioned on the first two days folks—can't be upset about the expected happening.
But for young men like Geno Smith, the West Virginia quarterback once considered a potential No. 1 overall pick, Thursday night was soul-crushing. The entire NFL looked at him and said "no thanks" on making him dubbing him their franchise quarterback with a first-round guarantee.
Meanwhile, EJ Manuel—not even mentioned as a potential first-rounder heading into Thursday—was taken No. 16 overall to the surprise of everyone at Radio City Music Hall.
Manuels (surprises in the good way) and Smiths (surprises in the bad way) are rights of passage of each NFL draft. But where the Smiths are disappointed, people of his ilk represent great values as we head into Round 2.
With that in mind, here is a breakdown of a few top players left on the board coming into Friday's action.
1. Eddie Lacy (RB, Alabama)
For 49 consecutive years heading into Thursday night, there had been a running back drafted in the first round. Those days are over, as five decades' worth of running back excellence came crashing down in 2013.
Largely considered the top running back in this year’s class, Lacy may have a poor pro day showing to thank for him lasting to Friday. Struggling with an injured hamstring, Lacy’s overall lack of burst and middling performance in the on-field drills concerned scouts. Though he had enough top-end speed to outrun SEC secondaries, his lack of extra gear left many wondering whether that would translate to the next level.
Tape tells a far different story. Listed at 5’11” and 231 pounds, Lacy is a prototypically sized NFL running back. His bowling-ball arms and broad base allow for a steady running style that rarely sees him get tripped up by arm tackles. And while Lacy isn’t going to suddenly turn into a Tavon Austin-level speedster, he’s more than quick enough to avoid becoming a repeat of former Alabama bust Mark Ingram.
As soon as he gets more seasoning in the pass-catching game—not his forte at Alabama—Lacy could be a three-down back.
Looking at the second-round landscape, Lacy shouldn’t last long. About half of the first six teams in Round 2 could use a running back as either part of a platoon or as a full-time starter. The Cincinnati Bengals at No. 37 would be remiss if they didn’t jump on Lacy if he’s available.
2. Manti Te’o (LB, Notre Dame)
Of the names not taken in the first round, Te’o is arguably the most shocking. A four-year stalwart at Notre Dame, Te'o had one of the most decorated careers for a defensive player in college football history.
His second-place finish in the Heisman trophy balloting matched the best ever for a defense-only player. He made 113 tackles and grabbed seven interceptions en route to leading the Irish to a BCS National Championship Game berth, the latter statistic dwarfing all other linebackers.
Sure, his strange off-the-field problems were curious. But those are a quarter-year old at this point and should be long-forgotten to NFL coaches and general managers. Even if they aren’t forgotten yet, come training camp the entire story should be a thing of the past.
And while his 40-yard dash time at the combine in Indianapolis was wretched, his pro day saw a marked upswing by most accounts. He was never the fastest middle linebacker in college anyway, relying on an off-the-charts IQ and strong wrap-up tackling abilities to become a superstar.
Of course, everyone is smart at the NFL level. Knowing the X’s and O’s and where you’re supposed to be on every down is only part of the battle; you actually need the athleticism to get there.
Te’o does not have top 15 athleticism—especially not for a middle linebacker. In-his-prime Ray Lewis Te’o is not. But for a player who could very easily lead all rookies in tackles next season to last all the way past the first 32 picks is curious at best.
3. Geno Smith (QB, West Virginia)
There was once a time where history pointed toward Geno Smith being the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Prior to 2013, there had been four straight quarterbacks taken with the draft’s top selection. Taking that back even farther, only twice since 2001 had a quarterback not been taken No. 1.
Ostensibly the top quarterback on the board, not everyone was sold on Smith. But everyone was sold on him becoming the next in a long line of history. And even when it became clear the Kansas City Chiefs wanted no part of Smith with the top overall pick, Thursday’s end result was still shocking.
All 32 picks came and went with Smith sitting in the green room waiting for his phone to ring. The former likely No. 1 overall pick was left there, waiting like Aaron Rodgers and Brady Quinn had in the past. Unlike Quinn and Rodgers, no one came calling for Smith. Now he’s going home.
While Smith is unquestionably disappointed, a player who was once a mortal lock to get over-drafted is fast becoming a value. The Jacksonville Jaguars own the No. 33 pick on Friday night, essentially giving them all the power for any team wanting Smith.
They may be better off keeping that power and drafting Smith themselves. The former West Virginia star is not a perfect prospect by any means—his arm strength is good, not great down the field and he doesn’t truly excel in one particular facet of the game—but he would represent an instant upgrade over incumbent Blaine Gabbert.
Drafted in the first round in 2011, it’s safe to say the Gabbert era was already an unmitigated failure. Inaccurate and ill-prepared for an NFL offense, Gabbert floundered during his first two years under center.
Smith may never become an All-Pro, but the “hate” has gone way too far. He’s a late first-rounder who slipped to the second at a premium position. No. 33 is about as far as he’ll go on Friday.
4. Cornellius "Tank" Carradine (DE, Florida State)
Carradine missing out on the first round is the oldest story in the book: he got injured at the wrong time. A near-first-round lock late in the college football season, Carradine tore his ACL in November and missed Florida State’s final two games of the 2012 season, ending his career on the lowest of all notes.
As one would expect, Carradine’s stock plummeted as a result. His first-round grade quickly turned into most hoping he would land somewhere in the late second round or somewhere in the third. Just so long as he didn’t hang on the board until Saturday, things weren’t all terrible.
Then the miraculous happened. Carradine started working out for teams and showing why he was so highly thought of in the first place. Less than six months out of knee surgery, Carradine ran a 4.75-second 40-yard dash time last Saturday. Suddenly, his draft stock—already burgeoning thanks strong interviews and promising prognoses from doctors—was back on the precipice of a first-round grade.
Plenty of mock drafts had Carradine, a 6’4” behemoth with an insatiable motor and jaw-dropping first step, sneaking his way into the back-half of the first round. The San Francisco 49ers, who could use a versatile end as an eventual replacement for Justin Smith, were oft-mentioned among his possible suitors.
Luckily for Carradine, that possibility could come to fruition early in Round 2. San Francisco has the second pick on Friday at No. 34 and Carradine’s unique skill-set could be attractive. Plus, with the 49ers not having many glaring needs, they could be as patient with Carradine as needed.
5. Zach Ertz (TE, Stanford)
Viewed on an equal playing field with Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert heading into the draft process, Ertz was clearly the second banana by Thursday night. Eifert was a clear-cut first-rounder while his counterpart was left hoping some team would take a late-round chance.
How did Ertz fall so far behind Eifert by draft day? The simplest way of all: workout mediocrity.
Ertz isn’t built in the Tony Gonzalez, "wide receiver in a tight end’s body" mold. The former Stanford product has brilliant hands and should catch plenty of balls at the next level. It’s just that his ability to create separation in college came from his brilliant route-running skills and sneaky quickness rather than 4.5-second speed.
That much showed at the combine. Ertz ran a middling 4.76-second time in Indianapolis and failed to impress scouts in most other physical drills. (Ertz’s 24 bench press reps were among the best at his position, however.)
With emerging but still not dominant run blocking skills, Ertz fell behind the more athletic and speedy Eifert. The former Irish tight end was built to overtake Ertz in the draft process and he did just that, being taken No. 21 by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Luckily, whichever team (and it’s unclear where he’ll end up at the moment) lands Ertz will be getting a player who always performs between the hash marks. He’ll never become an All-Pro, but Ertz should settle in to become his generation’s Heath Miller.