Lack of drama makes first round of draft ho-hum affair
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell addresses the crowd during the first round of the NFL draft Thursday at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University. (Jerry Lai/USA TODAY Sports)
Drama? What drama?
Despite three months of intense trade speculation, no team could convince the Tennessee Titans to part with the No. 2 overall pick on what turned out to be a rather ho-hum Day 1 of the NFL draft Thursday night.
The Titans did what few thought they would. They selected Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, whose spread style in college appears at odds with head coach Ken Whisenhunt’s traditional pro-passing scheme.
The first NFL draft held outside New York City in 50 years kicked off 10 minutes earlier when, as expected, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston No. 1 overall.
Neither Winston nor Mariota was in attendance, each having decided weeks ago to spend the night with their families in their home states of Alabama and Hawaii, respectively.
“Man, I’m just blessed,” Winston told NFL Network, as some 200 invited family and friends cheered him in Bessemer, Ala. “I’ve got to be thankful, thankful (to Bucs owners, GM Jason Licht and head coach Lovie Smith) for giving me this opportunity.
“And a shout-out to Tampa Bay nation. Thank you for accepting me as your quarterback right now. I look forward to getting in there with the guys, earning a spot and competing my tail off and bring us some wins.”
Only a pair of minor, down-board trades occurred on the night.
At No. 3, the Jacksonville Jaguars selected the draft’s premier edge rusher, Dante Fowler Jr. from the University of Florida.
“I told them I was their guy,” Fowler said to ESPN. “And I told them, Let’s do it.”
Fowler praised his father on stage for being so hard on him while growing up, to make him a better man and athlete.
“He told me, ‘One day you’re going to thank me,’” Fowler said. “I always used to wonder why he used to get on me and all that stuff ... His dream came true today, too.”
At No. 4, the Oakland Raiders gave their young quarterback, Derek Carr, a desperately needed premier target to throw to, choosing Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper.
Cooper also chose not to attend the draft, held in the cramped but quaint Auditorium Theatre in Roosevelt University’s downtown high-rise.
At No. 5, the Washington Redskins made the first eyebrow-raising pick of the evening, taking Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff higher in the first round than most draftniks had him pegged.
Scherff’s elevated selection meant USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams was still available at No. 6 for the New York Jets — a big surprise. He was seen as a top-five lock. Some analysts, such as NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, viewed Williams as the superior talent in this draft, quarterbacks included.
Yet it took the draft-daft Jets nearly all of their allotted 10 minutes to make the obvious choice: Williams.
At that point, it seemed a no-brainer the Chicago Bears would select the other wide receiver seen as a top-10 talent — Kevin White of West Virginia — after having traded away their top veteran receiver, Brandon Marshall, in March.
That’s exactly what the Bears did, to the exultation of the pro-Bears audience.
The third defensive end of the night went eighth, to the Atlanta Falcons: an elated Vic Beasley of Clemson, who said he grew up a Falcons fan.
At No. 9, the New York Giants picked the draft’s second offensive lineman, Miami tackle Ereck Flowers, in the club’s continuing pursuit of providing a serviceable protective front for passer Eli Manning.
To round out the top 10, the St. Louis Rams chose running back Todd Gurley of Georgia, a surprise choice. It’s not that he’s not a top-10 talent; he’s probably even a top-five talent.
But Gurley blew out an ACL late last season and probably won’t be 100% by September, which compelled many analysts to downgrade him to the mid or lower first round.
“In Gurley,” Rams GM Les Snead told ESPN, “we felt we were getting a once-every-now-and-then talent that fell only because of his knee, so we had to take him.”
It’s the first time a running back was chosen in the first round since 2012, which also is the last time quarterbacks were chosen 1-2.
Speaking of the hot young passers, reports this week suggested the Browns offered their two first-round picks (Nos. 12 and 19) to Tennessee for the No. 2 pick, to nab Mariota, but the Titans wanted considerably more. The Browns said seeya.
So did every other team pursuing Mariota.
Everyone expected Eagles head coach and football boss Chip Kelly to make a bold, massive, even reckless offer to the Titans in an attempt to snag Mariota, his spread-expert QB at Oregon before Kelly jumped to the Eagles in 2013.
Whatever the Eagles offered the Titans, or had in mind by way of a possible three-way trade, it didn’t work out.
“I didn’t think it was going to happen, and it didn’t happen,” Kelly told reporters. “It was a really steep price.”
Cleveland did non-Browns things and smartly picked up two monster linemen: at No. 12, D-tackle Danny Shelton from the University of Washington, and at No. 19 guard Cameron Erving of Florida State.
One hour and 41 minutes into the proceedings, the first trade of the night finally went down.
The San Diego Chargers traded up two spots with the San Francisco 49ers, leapfrogging the Houston Texans to pick the second running back of the first round, Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon. The Chargers were convinced the Texans would select Gordon.
The move was costly: the Chargers gave to the Niners their No. 17 pick, their fourth-round pick on Saturday (117th overall) and a fifth-rounder next year.
Kansas City took the draft’s first bad boy at No. 18, University of Washington cornerback Marcus Peters, who quit on the new Huskies coaching staff in the middle of last season — literally.
As it turned out, though, that was about six bad-boy incidents ago among this year’s first-round talents.
Predictably, Philadelphia’s Kelly then selected USC wide receiver Nelson Agholor — predictable, because it’s a player he’s familiar with from college. Kelly now has more than 20 players on his Eagles roster he coached at Oregon, coached against in the then Pac-12, or personally tried to recruit.
It’s the identical model Pete Carroll employed after blowing up his Seattle Seahawks roster circa 2010-12, after jumping back to the pros from USC.
The night’s second trade went down 2½ hours in.
Denver sent to Detroit veteran guard Manny Ramirez, its fifth-round pick (143rd overall) and a fifth-rounder next year just to move up five spots, from 28th to 23rd, to select defensive end Shane Ray.
Ray was seen as a probable top-10 talent before getting pulled over Monday in Missouri and booked for marijuana possession. Dumb.
That Ray will now ply his trade in Colorado, where marijuana is legal, was not lost on a snickering Twitterverse.
Detroit, at No. 28, picked up another guard to go with Ramirez — Duke’s Laken Tomlinson, who won the hearts of the remaining fans in attendance, when he said he chose to study medicine at Duke so he could one day return to his native Jamaica to try to stop preventable deaths, such as his late grandfather’s.
We needed to be reminded: most are not knuckleheads.
By night’s end, three Washington Huskies were drafted, leading all universities. Florida, Florida State, Oregon, Miami, Clemson and Southern Cal each had two players selected.
The draft continues Friday night with Rounds 2 and 3 (starting at 7 p.m. EDT) with seven minutes per selection, and concludes with a marathon session Saturday (starting at noon EDT), with five minutes per selection from Rounds 4-6, and — new this year — just four minutes per pick in Round 7 and for all compensatory draft picks slotted at the end of Rounds 4-7.