NFL

NFL Draft: Quarterbacks go 1-2-3 in opening round as draft returns to big stage

By Sports Desk April 29, 2021

Highly touted quarterbacks? Check. Oversized stage? Check. Raucous Fans? Check.

A year after holding a virtual NFL Draft in Commissioner Roger Goodell’s basement due to concerns over the coronavirus, the 2021 draft descended on Cleveland, Ohio on Thursday, with Goodell once again sharing bro-hugs with the prospects on stage in front of thousands of vaccinated and mask-wearing fans.

Although the easy chair from Goodell’s basement did make the trip to the stage, this year’s edition of the draft felt much more normal than a year ago – and it began exactly as nearly everyone expected.

The Jacksonville Jaguars chose Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence first overall and the New York Jets went with BYU quarterback Zach Wilson at number two.

Considered to be the most polished QB prospect in years, Lawrence threw for 10,098 yards in his collegiate career, while going 34-2 as a starter with the Tigers and winning the 2018 National Championship.

Wilson had been linked to the Jets for months after throwing for 3,692 yards with 33 touchdown passes to only three interceptions last season, and New York hopes he can be the franchise’s answer at QB and lead the team to the playoffs for the first time since 2010 after the recently traded and 2018 No. 3 pick Sam Darnold never lived up to expectations.

A quarterback had also been projected to go third overall ever since the San Francisco 49ers traded up to that position weeks ago, the only question was who – Trey Lance out of FCS powerhouse North Dakota State, two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Justin Fields from Ohio State or Alabama national champion Mac Jones.

The tight-lipped 49ers ended weeks of suspense by drafting Lance, who has only played in one game since the 2019 season but led the Bison to the FCS title that year while accounting for 42 total touchdowns without an interception.

With the surprising Lance going to San Francisco, this became just the third time in the common draft era that started in 1967 – and first time since 1999 – quarterbacks went 1-2-3 in the NFL draft.

The consensus top five QBs - Lawrence, Wilson, Lance, Fields and Jones – had been slated to all get drafted in the top 10, but Fields and Jones were still on the board after 10 picks.

The Chicago Bears decided not to sit on their hands, trading up nine spots with the New York Giants to grab Fields, a dual-threat QB who finished his collegiate career with 5,701 passing yards and 67 TDs through the air.

The Patriots were more patient, selecting Jones with the 15th pick – a spot few believed he would still be available. Jones threw for 4,500 yards with 41 touchdowns to just four picks in leading Alabama last season, and became the first quarterback selected in the first round during Bill Belichick’s 21-year tenure in New England.

Jones also became the final QB selected in the first round, making this only the fourth time at least five QBs were drafted in round number one, along with 2018, 1999 and the famous 1983 draft, when six were selected.

Not only were QBs a hot commodity, so were their targets.

The Atlanta Falcons made Florida’s Kyle Pitts the highest drafted tight end in history when they picked him fourth overall after he had 43 catches for 770 yards and 12 TDs in 2020.

The Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins drafted who they hope will be their franchise quarterbacks in the 2020 first round, and this year they each focused on providing them with a playmaker they were familiar with.

Cincinnati selected LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase with the fifth pick, teaming him 2020 No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow, the quarterback who led the Tigers to the 2019 FBS title. In 26 games played together in 2018 and 2019, Burrow targeted Chase 162 times, resulting in 107 receptions for 2,093 yards and 23 touchdowns.

One pick later, the Dolphins chose Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle, reuniting him with college quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, last year’s fifth pick. Waddle only appeared in six games last season because of a broken left ankle, but he left Alabama with 106 receptions for 1,999 yards and 17 touchdowns over three years.

The reunions continued with the 10th pick, when the Philadelphia Eagles traded up to select 2020 Heisman Trophy-winning wide receiver DeVonta Smith to get him back with former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, the 53rd overall pick a year ago. Smith, who put up eye-popping numbers in 2020 with 117 receptions for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns, was a teammate of Hurts in 2017 and 2018.

While the Bengals, Dolphins and Eagles reunited former teammates, the Jaguars decided to go ahead and just bring aboard one of Lawrence’s teammates from this past season, selecting Clemson running back Travis Etienne with the 25th pick, making this the first time in the common draft era a quarterback and running back from the same school were drafted by the same team in the first round.

Etienne was a workhorse for the past four years with the Tigers, racking up 4,952 rushing yards and 70 touchdowns on the ground while averaging 7.2 yards per carry.

Etienne became the second running back selected in the first round after the Pittsburgh Steelers took Alabama’s Najee Harris one pick earlier.

With the Denver Broncos nabbing Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II ninth overall and the Las Vegas Raiders drafting Crimson Tide offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood at No. 17, Harris became the sixth player from Alabama drafted in the first round, matching the University of Miami from 2004 for the most players selected from one school in the first round.

While the draft started with offensive players being selected with the first seven picks for the first time ever, the final five picks of the opening round were all defensive players, concluding with the defending Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selecting linebacker Joe Tryon out of Washington with the 32nd pick.

Related items

  • Saleh: Wilson will start for Jets in Week 1 if he's healthy Saleh: Wilson will start for Jets in Week 1 if he's healthy

    New York Jets coach Robert Saleh laid it out bluntly when addressing Zach Wilson's availability for the NFL season-opener against the Baltimore Ravens on September 11. 

    In his first public comments since Wilson had successful arthroscopic surgery on Tuesday in Los Angeles to repair a torn meniscus, Saleh did not rule out Wilson taking the field against the Ravens.

    ''If Zach is ready to play, he's going to be the Week 1 starter,'' Saleh said on Thursday. "'If he's not, Joe [Flacco] will. That's no secret." 

    Wilson was injured while scrambling in the Jets' preseason opener last week against the Philadelphia Eagles, and the original diagnosis was he would be sidelined for two to four weeks.

    The timeline remained the same after the surgery, and his availability will come down to if he is healthy enough to take the field. 

    "It's really going to dictate on how he feels and when he's ready to go," Saleh said. "We're going to make sure we do right by him in terms of making sure that he's 100 per cent healthy. Whenever that is, that's when he'll hit the field."

    The Jets plan to be cautious with the 23-year-old, who they selected second overall in last year's draft, as they hope he will be the franchise's long-term answer at quarterback. 

    When Wilson hurt his knee last Friday, some feared his injury could miss the upcoming season.  However, he has already returned to the team facility after a cross-country flight and eager to get back to work. 

    '"Zach flew back last night and he's here today,'" Saleh said. "'He's already walking. He's in really good spirits. And he's champing at the bit to get to rehab."

  • Todd Bowles says 'there's no definitive date' for Tom Brady return Todd Bowles says 'there's no definitive date' for Tom Brady return

    Last Thursday, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Todd Bowles said Tom Brady was taking some planned time off and was scheduled to re-join the team after their preseason game against the Tennessee Titans on Saturday.  

    A week later, Bowles admitted he didn't know exactly when the future Hall of Fame quarterback would return. 

    "We'll see. We'll talk about it next week," Bowles said, via The Athletic. "I'm not concerned about it right now. We're trying to practice against Tennessee and play a game. I said sometime after Tennessee. There's no definitive date for me. We'll keep in touch and find out."

    That update seemed to contrast what Bowles said a week ago, when he revealed Brady left training camp to "deal with some personal things" and implied everything was worked out. 

    "This is something we talked about before training camp started," Bowles said last Thursday. "We allotted this time because [Brady] wanted to get in and get chemistry with the guys and go through two weeks of training camp."

    Brady was not slated to play in Tampa Bay's first preseason game against Miami last weekend or the Titans matchup, so the absence isn't entirely shocking for a 45-year-old quarterback who has had plenty of practice reps over a pro career that began in 2000. 

    However, Bowles' uncertainty as to when his first-choice QB will return is somewhat curious. 

    Brady famously retired briefly this past offseason before announcing in mid-March that he would return for a third season with Tampa Bay and 23rd in the NFL after leading the league with a career-high 5,316 passing yards in 2021, while also ranking first in passing touchdowns with 43.  

    He led the Buccaneers to a 13-4 regular-season record and NFC South crown last year, but their season ended with a 27-20 loss to the eventual Super Bowl-champion Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round of the playoffs. 

    Tampa Bay begins this season at Dallas on September 11, and Bowles said last week Brady's absence would not affect the seven-time Super Bowl champion's availability for the opener. 

  • 'I stand on my innocence' – Deshaun Watson reacts to extended 11-game NFL ban 'I stand on my innocence' – Deshaun Watson reacts to extended 11-game NFL ban

    Deshaun Watson apologised for "any pain this situation has caused" before the Cleveland Browns quarterback insisted that was not an admission of guilt on any level over the accusations of sexual misconduct made against him.

    Watson has received an 11-game suspension and a $5million fine after the NFL and NFL Players Association (NFLPA) reached an agreement over his punishment.

    The 26-year-old faced 24 civil lawsuits over sexual assault and misconduct allegations. He was not charged by two grand juries and settled 20 of 24 lawsuits in June, with a further three settlements reported ahead of a hearing verdict early this month.

    Watson was given an initial six-game suspension and no further fine after a disciplinary hearing conducted by former US district judge Sue L. Robinson. However, the NFL formally appealed against that ruling in order to seek further punishment, agreeing to the new sanctions with the NFLPA.

    Watson's first game back is scheduled to be on December 4, against his former team the Houston Texans.

    Having denied any wrongdoing after the accusations were made, Watson last week apologised to "all of the women that I have impacted".

    A similar message came on Thursday in a statement from the Browns, in which Watson said he wished to "apologise once again for any pain this situation has caused".

    "I take accountability for the decisions I made," Watson's statement added. "My focus going forward is on working to become the best version of myself on and off the field and supporting my team-mates however possible while I’m away from the team."

    Just minutes later, Watson faced the press and said he would continue to "stand by my innocence".

    Watson said it was important to swallow the punishment, stating: "My whole life has to be able to move forward."

    He spoke of needing "to grow as a person", but refused to offer a view on the level of punishment dished out.

    "I can't speak on the fairness," Watson said. "The NFL did what they had to do, and the NFLPA communicated with the legal side. I'm going to keep my opinion to myself."

    Watson was not mincing his words when he added: "I'm moving on with my career and my life, and I'm continuing to stand on my innocence. Just because a settlement's been paid, it doesn't mean a person is guilty for anything."

    When asked about whether he would tell all at some point, Watson said: "That's definitely the plan, that's definitely the goal. I've felt like through this whole process I've been trying to tell my side of the story, but a lot of people didn't really pay much attention to it."

    He said he needed "to do what's best for Deshaun Watson" and said he could not control public opinion.

    On top of the ban and fine, Watson will be required to commit to an evaluation with behavioural experts while also following a mandatory treatment programme. He says he wants to prove himself to the Cleveland community.

    "Counselling is definitely a big part of that," Watson said. "I'll continue to show my face and show people who I really am."

    Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam issued a joint statement in which they spoke of "a real opportunity to create meaningful change", saying they were "committed to investing in programmes in Northeast Ohio that will educate our youth regarding awareness, understanding, and most importantly, prevention of sexual misconduct and the many underlying causes of such behaviour".

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.