Draft will be marked by linemen taken early

Quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs may be the "sexy" picks, but there are going to be a lot more linemen taken than skill position players early in the draft.

Old-school NFL analysts like to talk about the game in terms of warfare. One of those buzz phrases is that games are won "in the trenches" – the offensive line and defensive line doing the dirty work to win games.

As the clock continues to roll down to the 2013 draft next month, it would seem that the Class of 2013 exemplifies that mantra like few others in recent history. At a time when quarterbacks would appear to be the standard unit of measure on the first day of the draft, this year will be remembered by the non-skill position players that come off the board.

Of the first 15 picks of the draft, it can be argued that 75 percent or more of them will be offensive or defensive linemen. Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel is widely viewed as the top pick coming in the draft, but he is far from alone. By the time the Vikings are scheduled to make their first pick of the draft at No. 23, there could very likely be four offensive tackles off the board (Joeckel, Eric Fisher of Central Michigan, Lane Johnson of Oklahoma and D.J. Fluker of Alabama). Throw in the two locks at guard that are expected to go in the first half of the first round (Chance Warmack of Alabama and Jonathan Cooper of North Carolina) and fast-rising OT Menelik Watson of Florida State and there could be as many as seven offensive linemen off the board by the time the Vikings make their first selection.

But that's only half the story. The other side of the trench will be just as picked over in the first 20 or so picks. Defensive tackles Sharrif Floyd of Florida and Star Lotulelei of Utah are viewed as blue-chip picks that could both go in the top five. Missouri's Sheldon Richardson and North Carolina's Sylvester Williams are expected to follow soon, which could take four DTs off the board before the Vikings are on the clock. Defensive end is in just as much demand with the talent level of the 2013 draft class. Ezekiel Ansah (BYU), Barkevious Mingo (LSU), Bjoern Werner (Florida State) and Damontre Moore (Texas A&M) increase the number of defensive linemen to eight that potentially could be gone by the time the Vikings pick.

Linemen aren't the "sexy" kind of picks that sell jerseys – those are typically reserved for young quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers. But the reality of the Class of '13 is that the respective draft classes at those three positions don't have a marquee player. Many believe that, barring a team trading back into the first round or someone in the top 10 making an incredible reach, West Virginia's Geno Smith will be the only quarterback taken in the first round. There are no running backs that most analysts value with a first-round grade, and the group of wide receivers, while talented, doesn't have a Calvin Johnson or Julio Jones in its ranks. Considering the free agent signings that have been made, the Rams (one pick in front of the Vikings) may be the first team to take a wide receiver.

Skill position offensive players sell tickets and help market a franchise. But championships are won and lost by strong play in the trenches and, from the looks of things a month out of the draft, the trenches are going to be well-represented in prime time on the draft's opening night April 25. They may not be names that jump out at football fans, but they're going to be players that will be critical to the long-term success of the franchises that take them, making 2013 one of the more interesting drafts to follow because there are no clear-cut, must-have players at the top, but there is a lot of talent that will stock the shelves of NFL teams.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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