NEW YORK (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.
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.”
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. 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.
“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 to the 11th spot, then thrilled its fans by choosing quarterback Justin Fields of Ohio State.