The latest on the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night. (all times EDT):
LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who sat out last season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been chosen fifth overall in the NFL draft by Cincinnati.
Desperate for a playmaker to team with Joe Burrow, the quarterback who teamed with Chase to lead LSU to the 2019 national title, the Bengals found him in a guy who makes all the contested catches. An All-American in 2019, Chase set SEC records with 1,780 yards receiving and 20 TD catches.
There were strong indications as the draft approached that the Bengals would eschew taking a blocker to protect Burrow and go for the top wideout.
He was the first non-quarterback taken after Jacksonville drafted Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, the Jets got BYU’s Zach Wilson, and San Francisco went for North Dakota State’s Trey Lance.
Pitts figures to be more of a hybrid tight end/wide receiver in the pros, with few blocking assignments. So what when Pitts is 6-foot-6, 245 pounds and presents an intimidating matchup for even the best defenders. Pitts has sure hands, speed, reach, elusiveness and intelligence. He should be an instant starter in Atlanta, maybe an instant star.
Trey Lance, a quarterback from FCS school North Dakota State who started 17 games in his career, has been chosen third overall in the NFL draft by San Francisco.
Even though Jimmy Garoppolo took the 49ers to the Super Bowl two years ago, general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan felt they needed new blood at the position. They traded up to the No. 3 slot, paying a high price to Miami, so they could select Lance.
Yet Lance is not the highest North Dakota State quarterback chosen in a draft. Carson Wentz went second overall to Philadelphia in 2016.
In what has been billed a “quarterbacks draft,” at least for the first round, Zach Wilson of BYU is the second straight passer to go at the top of the selections.
The New York Jets chose Wilson after Jacksonville grabbed Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence. At least three other signal callers are expected to go in the first 32 picks — and likely early in the round.
New York dealt Sam Darnold, the third overall selection in 2018, to Carolina earlier this month to clear the job for Wilson. The Jets were so impressed with Wilson’s pro day, which was attended by their GM, coach and offensive coordinator, that it became clear Wilson will be the next Jets attempt at finding the franchise quarterback they haven’t had since Joe Namath.
No suspense at the top of this NFL draft: Trevor Lawrence to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The star quarterback who led Clemson to a national title and generally is considered the best prospect at the position since Andrew Luck in 2012 has had his name called first by Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Lawrence, a junior, 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.
As Jaguars owner Shad Khan said earlier this week, without specifically mentioning Lawrence:
“It’s unbelievable. If this isn’t a moment to enjoy for me and for all the Jags fans, you need more coffee or you need something else. This is a great-to-be-alive kind of moment, frankly.”
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.
Since the NFL took the draft on the road, most teams in the league have sought to host it.
The road trip for the selection process began in 2015 with the first of two consecutive drafts held in Chicago. That came after the event was held in New York from 1965-2014 at various venues.
Philadelphia hosted in 2017, drawing massive crowds to the Museum of Art. Then the league headed to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, for yet another new sort of location.
Probably the most popular draft festivities occurred in 2019 in Nashville, with more than a half-million people attending along Lower Broadway for draft picks and country music (Tim McGraw and Dierks Bentley).
Las Vegas was planning to outdo all previous drafts before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the league to go virtual last year. Sin City will host next year, followed by Kansas City.
And now, it’s Cleveland, along the Lake Erie shore and by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
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