Ever since the Kansas City Chiefs made a deal with the San Francisco 49ers for quarterback Alex Smith, the list of potential targets for their first overall draft pick shrunk exponentially. Quarterback Geno Smith was a popular pick, and many mock drafts went back-and-forth on Smith or Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel.
Most consider Joeckel to be a much, much better prospect than Smith, but this is a quarterback-driven league, and that's where the controversy arose. Now, public opinion is focused squarely on Joeckel. If he's the selection, it would actually be a mildly historic occasion.
Since 1936, teams have selected a quarterback with the first overall pick in the NFL Draft 29 times. This is the most of any position by far, followed by some kind of running back (21) or defensive lineman (12). But when it comes to offensive tackles, only three players have been taken with that first overall pick.
One could argue that the left tackle position is more important than any other on the football team. No quarterback can play effective, consistent and long-lasting (hint: free of injury) football without some blocking. While left tackles surely come at a premium in the league, they've rarely been picked first. Since 1980, six players identifying as tackles have gone with the second overall pick, but the first remains at three.
So how did those three fare?
In 1968, the Minnesota Vikings took Ron Yary out of USC with the first overall pick. He went on to play 15 seasons in the NFL, 14 of which were with the Vikings. He was one of 10 Vikings to play in all of Super Bowls IV, VIII, IX and XI. Yary was a blocker for a team that won 11 division titles during his time there. He also went to the Pro Bowl seven overall and consecutive times (1971-77). He was a first-team All-Pro selection six times (1971-76).
Yary was considered the favorite to be drafted first overall in the lead-up to that draft, and he certainly worked out very well for the Vikings. Some other notable players from the first 10 picks that year included Hall of Famer Larry Csonka, and Pro Bowlers Claude Humphrey and Fred Carr.
Another offensive lineman wasn't taken with the first pick for almost 30 years. Peyton Manning was considered the top pick in the 1997 NFL Draft before he elected to return to Tennessee, which made tackle Orlando Pace the consensus top pick for the New York Jets. They elected to trade the pick the day before the draft, however, and the St. Louis Rams ended up taking Pace first overall for themselves.
Pace was a holdout to begin the 1997 season, but after getting signed he sat on the bench briefly, before earning a starting role at the end of September of that season. He then went on to start every game for the rest of the season. From there, he was the Rams' starter until 2008, when he signed a contract with the Chicago Bears. Pace slowed down late in his career, missing eight games in 2006 and 15 games in 2007.
But that was after an incredibly productive career. He earned seven consecutive Pro Bowl selections from 1999-2005 and was an All-Pro five times, from 1999-2004. He also blocked for the Super Bowl XXXIV-winning Rams and was the whole reason for the term "pancake block" becoming popular today. Safe to say he was a pretty good pick.
Another decade passed before another offensive lineman was taken with the No. 1 overall pick. In a draft that saw a whopping eight offensive tackles taken in the first round, Jake Long was at the top of the heap, without a doubt. This draft included players like Ryan Clady, Chris Williams (who eventually took Pace's job in Chicago) and Sam Baker.
Long was the pick, without any kind of doubt whatsoever. He put up 37 reps at the bench press at the combine, which was tied for the most that year, but he probably didn't even need that. Miami made him the third offensive lineman drafted first overall, with a shiny five-year, $57.75 million contract with a whopping $30 million guaranteed. Fortunately, there's now a rookie wage scale.
Long is still playing, and recently signed with the St. Louis Rams (who had the No. 2 pick that year, with which they selected defensive lineman Chris Long). He's slowed down due to injury, and has recently seen the injured reserve list, but has had a plenty productive career thus far. He made the Pro Bowl for four consecutive years between 2008 and 2011. He was named a first-team All-Pro in 2010 and a second-team All-Pro in 2009, losing out to Ryan Clady and Joe Thomas for first team that year.
While Long, at 27 years old, still has time to add more Pro Bowls and other achievements to his resume, it's already safe to say that all three offensive linemen taken with the first overall pick have been above-average players. In fact, calling them "above average" is an understatement. There's a Hall of Famer in Yary, a potential future Hall of Famer in Pace, and a guy who certainly has played at that level in Long.
In other words, if the Chiefs were to take Joeckel with the first overall pick in the draft, they would be in good company. The team has a new quarterback in Alex Smith and just re-signed wide receiver Dwayne Bowe to a big contract. Joeckel is clearly the top tackle this year and, if he pans out, he'll provide the stability that the Chiefs need to compete in the AFC West.