The first round of the NFL draft Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall was like another harbinger of spring, when the circus arrives at Madison Square Garden and the elephants parade down 34th Street late at night.
In this case, the "dance of the elephants," as former Giants general manager George Young once described it, involved a series of offensive and defensive linemen heading to the podium to engulf NFL commissioner Roger Goodell with a congratulatory hug. It began with Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher nosing out Texas A & M tackle Eric Joeckel for the No. 1 pick by Kansas City.
Joeckel settled for the No. 2 slot with Jacksonville as NFL teams loaded up with beef on the hoof at the annual meat market. It wasn't as exciting as last year when marquee quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III went 1-2, but it was historic when three of the first four picks were offensive tackles, including Oklahoma's Lane Johnson going No. 4 to Philadelphia.
"That's awesome," Fisher said of the run on tackles. "Three tackles in four picks. That's a lot of love for the big boys up front, which we usually don't get. It's been a great competition with these tackles. It always kept me hungry. I wanted to be No. 1 in this, and the fact that it just happened is just awesome."
Six offensive linemen were chosen with the first 11 picks, including North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper at No. 7 by Arizona and the Alabama pair of guard Chance Warmack and tackle D.J. Fluker going No. 10 and No. 11 to Tennessee and San Diego.
Of the first 14 picks, only three -- West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin (No. 8, St. Louis), Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner (No. 9 Jets) and Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden (No. 12, Oakland) -- were non-linemen. Five defensive linemen also were drafted in that stretch, including Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan No. 3 to Miami, which traded up with Oakland, BYU defensive end Ziggy Ansah No. 5 to Detroit, LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo No. 6 to Cleveland, Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson No. 13 to the Jets and Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei No. 14 to Carolina.
Except for the Jets' picks and the Giants' selection of Syracuse offensive tackle Justin Pugh at No. 19, the loudest cheer might have been reserved for Buffalo, which traded down from No. 8 to No. 16 and made Florida State's EJ Manuel the first and only quarterback taken in Round 1 as West Virginia's Geno Smith saw his stock fall. Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o was another who plunged and was not selected in the first round.
This clearly was not a year for the so-called "skill positions." It was the first time since 1963 no running backs were selected. Of 32 first-rounders, 18 were interior offensive linemen or defensive linemen, nine of each.
Rounds 2 and 3 are scheduled Friday night with Rounds 4-7 to follow Saturday.
Joeckel was the consensus No. 1 in most mock drafts until the very end when Fisher overtook him.
"Every guy here in New York was fighting for the No. 1 position," Joeckel said. Speaking of the late rumors, he said, "I definitely heard stuff going on [Wednesday]. There's some anger. You always want to be the best. It will put a chip on my shoulder."
At the same time, Joeckel was happy his fellow offensive linemen got such recognition: "It's always nice when offensive linemen get respect."