It was a good night for the big men, and a great one for the SEC.
To the surprise of no one, Luke Joeckel, the junior offensive tackle from Texas A&M, was the first SEC player taken in Thursday’s NFL draft. He went second overall to Jacksonville, right after Kansas City chose Eric Fisher from Central Michigan.
What was a surprise: three of the first four picks were tackles, the third being Lane Johnson of Oklahoma, who went to Philadelphia at No. 4.
That was a first in the modern era of the draft. But it also was just the beginning of what would turn out to be a parade of giants on stage at Radio City Music Hall.
Eight of the first 20 picks were offensive linemen, 300-pounders who strained the buttons on their suits as they put on ill-fitting caps and gushed lovingly over their new teams. Two more were defensive tackles and another two were defensive ends.
Only one quarterback went in the first round, and that one was a surprise. EJ Manuel, the big, versatile Florida State quarterback, went to Buffalo with the 16th pick.
But even more surprising was the fact that for the first time in 40 years, not a single running back was chosen in the first round.
This was a year of building infrastructure in which flash took a backseat to brawn, and guys who will never do hair gel commercials found NFL homes before the rushers, passers and most of the playmaking receivers.
Another common theme also emerged: More than a third of the first-round picks came from the SEC.
Not long after Joeckel held up his Jaguars jersey, LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo went to the Cleveland Browns at No. 6.
Then Jets coach Rex Ryan stayed true to type by using the No. 9 pick on the best defensive back on the board — and arguably the best cornerback Alabama has ever produced — Dee Milliner.
Ryan had the No. 13 pick as well, which he used on another SEC defensive player, Missouri tackle Sheldon Richardson.
Alabama was called three times in a row beginning with Milliner at No. 9, followed by guard Chance Warmack, who was taken by the Titans at No. 10. Tackle D.J. Fluker rounded out the trio when the Chargers called his name with the 11th pick.
Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, arguably the best outside linebacker in the country during the season, slid to the 17th spot because of his poor speed at the Combine and worries about his recent diagnosis of spinal stenosis. But he couldn’t be happier with his new team. One of the finest gentlemen in this year’s class was chosen by one of the finest organizations in all of football: the Pittsburgh Steelers.
LSU safety Eric Reed will be heading to San Francisco, while Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd was the Vikings’ choice at No. 23.
Three of the final four selections of the night also came from the SEC, with the Vikings selecting Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson with the 29th pick; the Rams choosing Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree in the 30th spot; and the Ravens picking Florida safety Matt Elam as the last man taken in the round.
It surprised many that West Virginia QB Geno Smith and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o went home for the night without a team. Alabama running back Eddie Lacy also dropped, surprisingly, to the second round.
They certainly will find homes on Friday. But for one night at least, the NFL was about the guys in the trenches. For once, the big guys had their day. They were, finally, the ones receiving all the glory.