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2013 NFL Draft: Dolphins, Rams headline surprising first round

ST. LOUIS -- Last week, as part of their pre-draft diligence, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead brought a few of their current quarterbacks to Morgantown, W.Va, to throw passes to wide receiver Tavon Austin.

After just two routes, Fisher stopped the workout for a moment, realizing there were a few people watching who weren't from the Rams' organization. He told Snead to deliver a quiet message to his quarterbacks.

"Stop smiling so much," Snead told them. "You're going to give it away."

It turned out that the Rams were just one of several teams to successfully keep their secrets safe -- no matter how drastic the measures needed to do so -- as a night of surprises unfolded during the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft.

The Miami Dolphins, who stunned the league by trading up for the third overall pick to snag defensive end Dion Jordan, kept their secret quiet. So did the Kansas City Chiefs, who ended up taking offensive tackle Eric Fisher despite widely believed expectations that they'd go with Luke Joeckel. And what about EJ Manuel becoming the first -- and only -- quarterback taken during the first round, heading to the Buffalo Bills with a good chance to win the starting job?

As mock drafts became mockeries, the mysteries of this intriguing draft unspooled with a series of twists and turns that lasted all evening.

It wasn't only about what did happen -- it was also about what didn't. The Oakland Raiders, for instance, didn't select defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd at No. 3, or even at No. 12 with the pick they acquired in the trade with Miami, going with D.J. Hayden instead. The Raiders' decision sent Floyd on a long slide that didn't end until he was taken 23rd overall by the Minnesota Vikings.

But maybe -- aside from Floyd's fall -- we should have seen much of this coming. Last year proved to be a year for quarterbacks, with three selected in the top 10 and four picked in the first round. This year, it turned out, was about teams investing early picks in protecting or pressuring the stars at that position.

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Three offensive tackles were selected in the first four picks (the first time that's happened in the modern draft era). The round ended, meanwhile, with one quarterback, three wide receivers and no running backs coming off the board. That could very well have been the result of this factor: Heading into the draft, teams seemed to have a waning conviction about the top-end talent in this group. And since linemen are often considered "safer" picks than players at skill positions, it's possible teams were less interested in gambling than usual.

Of course, that wasn't the case for the Rams or the Dolphins, two teams that climbed high to grab players they clearly believe in.

The Rams' scenario was particularly intriguing. Realizing that interest in Austin was growing rapidly, they decided they'd need to jump the New York Jets at No. 9 in order to secure the wideout. Convincing the Bills that a trade would be in their best interest -- since it would guarantee that Austin wouldn't be in the AFC East with them -- got the deal done.

St. Louis then was able to trade down from No. 22 in order to recoup some of the picks lost in the deal with the Bills -- and the Rams still found a player they coveted (outside linebacker Alec Ogletree) with the newly acquired 30th overall pick.

Despite the surprises that came with the top 10 picks, none necessarily represented reaches. After all, the Dolphins desperately need to boost their pass rush. The Rams desperately need more threats in the passing game. The Chiefs and the Jaguars, meanwhile, could've justified picking either tackle, while the Raiders still got good value out of their selection of Hayden at 12.

By the evening's end, much of what had happened actually made very good sense. With the mysteries unveiled -- at least for the first round of the draft -- teams could once again smile as they pinned their hopes for 2013 on their new players.

Will Day 2 provide similar surprises? With Manti Te'o and Geno Smith still on the board -- and with running back Marcus Lattimore looking like an intriguing prospect in either of the next two rounds -- it certainly should bring plenty more dramatics.

And plenty more secrets, too.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @JeffDarlington.

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