Hang tight … the NFL Draft should start any minute now …


By Sam Gardner, FOXSports.com

NEW YORK — If Day 1 of the 2013 NFL Draft had a Mr. Irrelevant, it would have been former Florida Gators safety Matt Elam, who was selected 32nd by the Baltimore Ravens to close a tedious first round that spanned 3 1/2 hours that felt like six Thursday at Radio City Music Hall.

But truth be told, the entire night felt like a no-frills case study in irrelevance, to the point where even the hometown Jets fans — the looniest and most overwhelming lot in a theater full of die-hard football junkies — couldn’t find anything to get worked up about.

Of the 32 players picked Thursday, nine were offensive linemen, a vitally important, but decidedly unsexy crew. The top overall pick, new Kansas City Chief offensive tackle Eric Fisher, went to Central Michigan, making him the highest-drafted MAC player ever, and the first small school non-quarterback to go No. 1 since Ed “Too Tall” Jones in 1974.

Only one skill position player went in the Top 10 — West Virginia’s Tavon Austin — who went to the Rams at No. 8. And one year after Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III went first and second overall — ahead of fellow first-rounders Ryan Tannehill (No. 8) and Brandon Weeden (No. 22) — Florida State’s EJ Manuel was the only quarterback selected, at No. 16 by the Bills.

If anything, the biggest story of the night was the list of high-profile players whose names weren’t called in the first round, most notably among them:

West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, who spent a lonely night in the green room waiting to hear his name called; USC quarterback Matt Barkley, who entered the 2012 season as the consensus favorite to go first overall after spurning the 2012 draft to return for his senior season; Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, a one-time fan favorite who was exposed by both Alabama and Deadspin in January; and LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, who wisely canceled a previously scheduled post-draft party in New York before the circumstances did it for him.

And when all the talk at the end of the day is about the guys who didn’t get picked, you know the players who did hear their names called were far from riveting.

Never was that clearer to me than in the moments after the Jets picked Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson at No. 13. The response from the always-passionate Gang Green faithful wasn’t one of anger, nor was it one of joy. If anything, Richardson’s selection elicited a complete lack of emotion, which is probably the worst reaction a pick could generate — especially in this city.

And if that’s how the Jets fans responded to their pick, imagine what the other picks sounded like.

It’s not the fault of the players, though, nor does the lack of first-round excitement fall on the teams. Not even a little bit. The players who were selected were, in virtually every case, either the best available or the best fit, depending on certain team needs. And no one should fault a GM for passing on a big name if it means making his team better. After all, cheering for a playoff run is a heck of a lot more fun than cheering for a draft pick.

It’s just that there is little that sucks the air out of a room quicker than a hulking O-lineman going No. 1 … and then having another one go No. 2 … and then having a third one go No. 4. First rounds like Thursday’s underscore the difference between college stardom and pro potential, and that chasm separating the two, frankly, doesn’t represent a whole lot of fun.

(That point was hammered home even more by the league’s celebration Thursday of the 30th anniversary of the 1983 draft class, which featured six future Hall of Famers in the first round, including QBs John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino, and is still arguably considered the best ever.)

For me, it all kind of ruined the whole draft experience. An intrepid journalist looking to document the fan experience at the draft, I first walked into the belly of the beast Wednesday, when I stood in line for four hours to secure a wristband that would allow me to get a ticket on Thursday. Then I did it all again Thursday, when I waited hours to get in, only to find that my randomly assigned seat was in the far corner of the theater.

Add to that the utter lack of excitement that the hog mollies chosen in Round 1 stirred up, and I’d have rather just watched from home — maybe on mute — saved myself the effort and just gotten a ticket to Days 2 and 3 instead. Because if Day 1 was any indication, the latter rounds could end up being the star of the show.