KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Playing on the offensive line is about as unglamorous as it gets in professional football.
Nobody pays much attention to the guys in the trenches until flags are flying. They spend Sunday afternoons getting punched, kicked and thrown to the turf, their fingers smashed and their face masks twisted — not to mention whatever goes on at the bottom of those piles.
The best offensive tackle will never be as valuable as, say, the best quarterback, and rarely does one of the guys up front stoke the passions of a fan base weary of losing.
So perhaps it’s no surprise that since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, only twice has an offensive lineman been selected first overall in the draft — Orlando Pace in 1997 and Jake Long in 2008.
The Kansas City Chiefs could make it three on Thursday night.
In a draft without a top-end talent at quarterback and no clear-cut No. 1 prospect regardless of position, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to call out the name of one of two offensive tackles — Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M or Eric Fisher of Central Michigan — after Kansas City hands in its selection at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
“Last year, people picking at the top of the draft were looking for quarterbacks. And fortunately, they were there,” said former NFL coach Jon Gruden, now an analyst with ESPN. “If you’re looking for a left tackle this year, you’re a lucky guy.”
The Chiefs insist that they’re not necessarily looking for a left tackle; they’re looking for the best available player, and Joeckel and Fisher happen to fit the bill.
But it helps the cause of both Joeckel and Fisher — or maybe even Lane Johnson, an offensive tackle from Oklahoma — that Kansas City could be unsettled at the position by draft night.
The Chiefs placed the franchise tag on left tackle Branden Albert, and he’s signed the tender worth about $9.3 million for next season. But they’ve also granted the Dolphins permission to speak with Albert’s representatives, and it’s becoming increasingly likely that a trade will happen.
“What I have to do is what’s best for the Kansas City Chiefs,” said general manager John Dorsey, who helped put together some of the Green Bay Packers’ best drafts but is calling the shots from the GM chair for the first time after being hired in January.