The 2013 NFL draft class has been criticized for its lack of talent at the skill positions.
But what this class lacks in the glamour positions, it makes up for in the trenches.
When analyzing the most recent big boards of ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay and Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, it becomes clear that this class possess an abundance of talent at the offensive and defensive lines.
Both Kiper and Miller placed 15 linemen among their top 25 prospects, while McShay's list contained 17.
The three experts came to a consensus on 11 prospects, but an incredible 21 different names appeared on their three lists.
|Linemen Appearing in 25 Big Boards|
|Prospect||No. of Boards||Peak Position|
|Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah||3||1|
|Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M||3||1|
|Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama||3||3|
|Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M||3||4|
|Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State||3||4|
|Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan||3||5|
|Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida||3||5|
|Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon||3||9|
|Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri ||3||10|
|Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma ||3||12|
|Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU||3||15|
|Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU ||2||8|
|Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina||2||11|
|Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina||2||15|
|D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama||2||16|
|Cornellius Carradine, DE, Florida State||1||14|
|Kawann Short, DT, Purdue||1||19|
|Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama||1||20|
|Alex Okafor, DE, Texas||1||22|
|Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State ||1||22|
|John Jenkins, DT, Georgia ||1||25|
This deep list creates the potential for an unprecedented run on linemen in the first round of April's draft.
Since 1970, in the modern draft era, the record for linemen selected in the first round is 15; that number most recently occurred in 2010.
But as the experts' list of 21 potential first-rounders shows, the 2013 draft could shatter that record.
While some may view this as nothing more than a fun piece of trivia, it does pose the question: Is this good for the NFL?
With the rise of fantasy football over the past 20 years, and fans' increasing interest in high-flying offenses, it could be argued that a class devoid of elite skill-position talent would have a minor negative effect on the popularity of the game.
But a closer look at this year's top linemen tells a different story.
In recent years, we've seen an increasing number of elite athletes enter the draft as offensive and defensive linemen—left tackles who used to play tight end, defensive ends who originally played linebacker, etc.
This year, that trend is taken to a new level.
The best example of the increasing athleticism of lineman may be Utah's Star Lotulelei, a candidate to go No. 1 overall.
Lotulelei is listed at 6'3" and 320 pounds, but he moves like a defensive end. His incredible quickness and surprising speed should immediately make him among the most dangerous interior pass-rushers in the league.
Another great example of the rare athletes in this year's class is Oregon's Dion Jordan.
Listed at 6'6", 234 pounds, Jordan originally committed to the Ducks as a tight end, but was moved to the defensive side of the ball prior to his sophomore season.
Due to his elite athleticism, the Oregon coaching staff developed a new hybrid position for Jordan, using him in a variety of roles. On any given play, Jordan could be blitzing, spying on the quarterback or even lining up in man coverage over a tight end in the slot.
So why are these types of athletic linemen good for the game?
Football is a sport that has continued to evolve, and due to health concerns, is in the midst of a rebuilding process.
The game is becoming less about hard hits and smash-mouth football, and more of a finesse sport. Some would argue this is bad for the game, but either way, it's a reality.
As it stands right now, football is at an odd in-between stage. The skill positions are evolving (see the rise of the pass-catching tight end as an example), and offensive schemes are developing (such as the pistol offense), but the competition in the trenches has remained largely unchanged.
This year's elite class of linemen could begin to change the way the game is played.
With more elite athletes in the trenches, both on the offensive and defensive side of the ball, the more physical side of the sport could begin to catch up with the ever-evolving, fast-paced finesse aspect of the game.
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