(AP) — No suspense at the top of this NFL draft: Quarterback, quarterback and, yep, quarterback.
With fans in attendance, prospects on hand and Commissioner Roger Goodell dispensing greetings to players being selected Thursday night, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence went to the Jacksonville Jaguars to get things started. Next was BYU’s Zach Wilson going to the New York Jets, and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance landing with the San Francisco 49ers.
That matched 1971 (Jim Plunkett, Archie Manning, Dan Pastorini) and 1999 (Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith) as the only drafts with quarterbacks taken with the top three picks. Only Plunkett won a Super Bowl among those QBs, and he didn’t do it with New England, which drafted him.
Two more passers went in the top 15: Ohio State’s Justin Fields to Chicago, which traded up to the 11th slot with the Giants, and Alabama’s Mac Jones to New England.
Lawrence, a junior who led Clemson to a national title, generally is considered the best prospect at the position since Andrew Luck in 2012. He joins new coach Urban Meyer, himself a major success in the college ranks, in trying to turn around a franchise that went 1-15 last season.
“I’m just pumped,” Lawrence said. “The best is yet to come.
“I don’t what the point is … if you don’t expect to win every week. I’m going to bring the same mindset.”
Many around the NFL felt that way simply because there are 12 prospects (not Lawrence) and thousands of fans joining Goodell on the shore of Lake Erie. Last year’s draft, scheduled for Las Vegas, was instead a totally remote affair because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wilson was expected to go to New York, which hasn’t had a franchise QB since Joe Namath and traded incumbent Sam Bradford to Carolina this month to clear a path for Wilson.
“When a team isn’t doing super well and you can go in there and actually be a key piece to actually flip that organization around, I think that’s so special,” Wilson said. “I’m so excited, along with this new coaching staff, to go in there and try and do the best that we can to flip this thing around.”
Lance was something of a surprise at No. 3. He played only 17 games for his FCS school, but his offseason workouts sold San Francisco.
“It was awesome getting to know coach Shanahan a little bit,” Lance said. “He is an awesome dude and what he has done on the field speaks for itself.”
Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, considered by many the best athlete in this draft, went fourth to Atlanta, followed by wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase of LSU, who sat out last season, to Cincinnati. The first player from national champion Alabama off the board was wideout Jaylen Waddle to Miami, where he will be reunited with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. And the first offensive lineman was tackle Penei Sewell of Oregon, taken by Detroit.
“J-Dub. Yessir!” Tagovailoa said with a laugh.
“We’re going to do our best to try to make plays,” Waddle said, “and hopefully we can make it happen and try to be part of something special.”
The first offensive lineman was tackle Penei Sewell of Oregon, taken by Detroit.
The SEC and, naturally, the Crimson Tide, were particularly popular early on. Of the six SEC players chosen in the top 10, three were from Alabama: Waddle, cornerback Patrick Surtain II to Denver, and Heisman Trophy-winning receiver DaVonta Smith to Philadelphia, which traded up with division rival Dallas, of all teams. The others were Pitts, Chase and cornerback Jaycee Horn of South Carolina to the Panthers.
After the Eagles-Cowboys deal, Chicago moved up from No. 20 and thrilled its fans by choosing Fields.
Dallas got some needed defensive help with Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, and a third straight Big Ten player went 13th when the Chargers took Northwestern tackle Rashawn Slater. Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert has to be smiling at the added protection he will receive.
The Jets became the first club with a second selection when they traded up from No. 23 to Minnesota’s 14th spot for USC offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker. He played tackle for the Trojans, but figures to switch to guard in the pros.
Networks realize Draft drama without frills sometimes best
Producer Charlie Yook and NFL Network didn’t have their own draft broadcast last year, but he was able to glean a couple of things from last year’s joint effort with ESPN.
The biggest is when it comes to the draft, sometimes simple works best and that it is OK to combine resources.
“I think we learned that there’s no point in having three cameras in one kid’s house. It’s also OK to be a little more casual for lack of a better word,” he said. “Shots don’t have to be with all these jillion-dollar cameras. It can be done with iPhones. And I think it’s the last year taught if anything, it’s more important to be seen and heard with family than anything else.”
While 12 prospects will be in Cleveland waiting to be selected and pose with commissioner Roger Goodell, the NFL has sent 45 camera kits to prospects homes with iPhones, lighting, a backdrop and the hats of each team.
NFL Network and ESPN will also have access to all 32 team war room cams after years of competing to see which teams they could get exclusive access.
Not having prospects on-site will present their own challenges, especially if the first round goes as quickly as last year. There were a couple of points last year where three selections had already been made before they were announced because players were still being interviewed.
Trevor Lawrence will not be in Cleveland, and may not be interviewed immediately after the Jacksonville Jaguars are expected to make him the top pick because the New York Jets are up next.
“It is hard to interview someone who just got selected if they’re not there because this thing continues to move and the narrative shifts. If they’re not readily available to go, you probably won’t see a lot of those interviews,” Yook said.
“But that’s the body of this event. It just keeps going forward.”
NFL Network, ESPN and ABC will air coverage all three days. ABC will have its own unique broadcast the first two days before having the ESPN simulcast on Saturday.
DIFFERENT, YET THE SAME
NFL Network will have reporters at 11 team complexes, but ESPN will continue to have its reporters operate remotely.
Seth Markman, ESPN’s VP of Production, said the decision was mainly for health and safety concerns.
“I think we could have done that, but it’s something that we just looked at that wasn’t a must do for this year,” he said.
“We feel like our reporters are good enough at this point to be able to report on multiple teams from home. I know people like to be face to face, but that’s not really going to happen these days. So I think sending a reporter to a team facility would be more about style over substance anyway.”
Yook said it was important for NFL Network to have reporters there while observing all health and safety protocols.
NFL Network will debut new graphics along with having a higher level of highlighting players along with one-on-one matchups.
SPOTLIGHT ON CLEVELAND
The night of the first round for many years was a rare chance Browns fans got to be in the spotlight, but after an 11-5 season and a playoff win for the first time since 1994, NFL Network host Rich Eisen is eager to see how Cleveland will respond to this year’s festivities.
“I don’t recall ever being to an NFL draft where the Browns being put on the clock was met with anything but sarcastic derision by anyone in the stands,” he said. “I expect there to be a huge moment when they’re on the clock and when the Steelers, Ravens and Bengals are on the clock.
“When we go to cities for the draft, it is different vibes because they have different regional interests. I love it. I absolutely love it.”
RUN RICH RUN
Eisen’s annual “Run Rich Run” fundraiser to support St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital will air on Saturday.
Eisen usually does his 40-yard dash in Indianapolis during the NFL combine, but the event wasn’t held this year.
Instead, Eisen did his run at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles on April 17. It will also feature Jerry Rice, Ray Lewis, Cris Carter, Rod Woodson, Terrell Davis, Michael Vick, Torry Holt and Eric Metcalf.
With the Draft-A-Thon continuing for the second straight year, Eisen would like to see raising funds for charities made a permanent part of the draft.
Mike Greenberg becomes only the fifth host in ESPN’s 42 years of doing the draft. He will host the first two days on ESPN with Rece Davis handling the final day.
Greenberg said discussions started in January after he mentioned to ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro a couple of years ago that he would like to be a part of more live sports coverage.
Despite the ebbs and flows of the draft, Greenberg thinks he is ready for the assignment. He also doesn’t see it as long days on set after being accustomed to 4 to 5 hours of doing live television and radio a day.
“I know that this is a totally different animal, and a lot of things will be coming at me fast and furious. But at the end of the day, we’re there to present these incredibly important events that fans are interested in,” he said.
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