No suspense at the top of this NFL draft: Quarterback, quarterback and, yep, quarterback.
With fans in attendance in Cleveland, 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 the Patriots, who drafted him.
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 know what the point is . . . if you don’t expect to win every week. I’m going to bring the same mindset.”
The mindset in Cleveland was positive simply because there were 12 prospects (not Lawrence) and thousands of fans — including, according to the league, fully vaccinated folks near the stage — 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.
Perhaps emboldened by successfully finishing the 2020 season on time and then staging the playoffs and Super Bowl without a hitch during the pandemic, the NFL targeted the draft as an opportunity to embrace some normalcy in America’s biggest sport. It also has used the event to support vaccinations for COVID-19 and, for the second consecutive spring, as a Draft-a-Thon raising money for a variety of causes.
Goodell received plenty of kudos for his hosting of last year’s draft in casual wear from his home. On Thursday night, dressed in a suit, he lauded the folks who sit in the seats.
“We all agree over the past season, one thing we missed the most was all our fans,” Goodell said. “And we can’t wait to have all of you back in First Energy Stadium and every stadium across the league this season.”
While Wilson was expected to go to New York, Lance was something of a surprise. 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.
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Dolphins grab Alabama WR Waddle
Jaylen Waddle is headed to the Miami Dolphins to provide a dynamic target for his former Alabama teammate, Tua Tagovailoa. The Dolphins selected Waddle with the sixth overall pick, choosing him over another Alabama receiver, Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith. It’s the highest Miami has ever taken a wideout.
A social media video showed Tagovailoa grinning when the selection of Waddle was announced.
“J-Dub. Yessir!” Tagovailoa said with a laugh.
“He’s going to make me better,” Waddle said, “and I’m going to make him better. We’re going to push each other.”
Tagovailoa, the No. 5 overall draft pick in 2020, became Miami’s No. 1 QB in Week 8 and went 6-3 as the starter.
The speedy, 5-9, 180-pound Waddle played in only six games last season because of a broken left ankle, but returned to play in the national championship game, catching three passes to help Alabama beat Ohio State. He averaged 18.9 yards on 106 receptions in three seasons at Alabama, including 17 touchdowns, and scored three times on kick returns.
Smith was taken 10th by the Philadelphia Eagles, who traded with the Dallas Cowboys to move up two spots. He and Waddle were both were in Cleveland, where the draft was held.
“It’s a special moment to share with your brother,” Waddle said, his voice breaking. “It makes the moment even more special, more emotional.”
The Cowboys selected Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons with the No. 12 pick. The Cowboys picked up a third-round pick from the Eagles in the trade, the 84th overall selection. The deal gives Dallas three picks in the third round.
Bears move up for Fields
The Chicago Bears traded up nine spots with the New York Giants to draft Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields with the No. 11 overall pick.
In addition to moving down to No. 20, the Giants received Chicago’s fifth-round pick (164th overall), plus first- and fourth-round picks in 2022.
A two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the year, Fields becomes the second quarterback drafted by general manager Ryan Pace since he was hired in 2015. The Bears traded up a spot in 2017 to take Mitchell Trubisky at No. 2 over Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. Trubisky is now backing up Josh Allen in Buffalo after the Bears decided to let him go as a free agent.
The Bears need help on the offensive line and at receiver, not to mention a quarterback to groom behind newly arrived veteran Andy Dalton. But there are also issues on defense, particularly after letting former All-Pro cornerback Kyle Fuller go for salary cap reasons. They also could use another edge rusher opposite Khalil Mack after Robert Quinn managed just two sacks last season.
Fields is Chicago’s first opening-round pick since 2018, when they took linebacker Roquan Smith at No. 8. Smith is the Bears’ only first-round pick still on the team since Pace was hired in 2015.
Jets trade up to No. 14, add lineman
New York gave Wilson an athletic and strong protector up front when it traded with Minnesota to move up from No. 23 to No. 14 and took USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker, considered by many the best interior offensive lineman in the draft. The Jets also sent two third-rounders (Nos. 66 and 86) to the Vikings for a fourth-rounder (No. 143). The 6-4½, 308-pound Vera-Tucker is expected to play left guard, where he was a standout as a sophomore before moving to left tackle last season. He will team with left tackle Mekhi Becton, the Jets’ first-rounder last year, on New York’s young, new-look left side of the line . . . National champion Alabama matched an NFL record by having six players taken in the first round of the draft. Running back Najee Harris became the sixth Crimson Tide player off the board when he was taken 24th overall by Pittsburgh. The Tide equaled the record set by Miami in 2004. In addition to Waddle and Smith, cornerback Patrick Surtain II went No. 9 to Denver; quarterback Mac Jones was the 15th pick by New England; and offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood was taken at 17 by Las Vegas . . . Next up were Florida, Virginia Tech and, Northwestern? Yep. The Wildcats, coming off a Big Ten West title, for the first time had two players chosen in the opening round. The Chargers at No. 13 grabbed tackle Rashawn Slater to protect Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert. Cleveland, in need of a cornerback, got Greg Newsome at No. 26.