For all the changes, NFL draft kind of looked, well, normal; SEC smashes record

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In this still image from video provided by the NFL, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow appears in The Plains, Ohio, during the NFL football draft Thursday, April 23, 2020. (NFL via AP)

For all the uniqueness of this NFL draft, including the angst over a potential communications fiasco, things looked and sounded pretty normal Thursday night.
Quarterbacks were in demand. Ohio State(the top three picks played there) and the Southeastern Conference (a record 15 picks) dominated. The Patriots traded out of the first round.
And Commissioner Roger Goodell even got booed, if only digitally.
“I do believe this draft is going to be the most memorable we have ever had,” said Goodell, noting that it is accompanied by a “Draft-A-Thon” to benefit six organizations on the front lines battling the coronavirus pandemic, which is what forced the NFL to cancel all in-person draft events.
The first round wasn’t all that remarkable for the picks. Beginning with Joe Burrow of national champion LSU, three quarterbacks went in the top six. Hardly unusual.
For months, the Heisman Trophy winner from LSU was linked with the Bengals. Cincinnati began the draft by sending his name to Goodell in the basement of his home.
This digital/remote/virtual draft — take your choice — was up and running. With no apparent glitches.
Of course, there were no fireworks on the Las Vegas Strip. No bear hug between Goodell and Burrow; the commissioner said he would miss those, even if his body wouldn’t. This most basic selection show had team personnel making picks from their homes and players sitting on their own couches while learning their future employers.
The NFL canceled all draft activities in Las Vegas when the national shutdown of large gatherings began. The league had gone full-bore into free agency last month and, now, seven rounds of the draft through Saturday.
“I just believe that our job is to continue on and operate within whatever guidelines are necessary to keep our personnel safe, whether it’s players or coaches or their executives or league personnel,” Goodell said. “We need to make sure that we’re doing things safely and put public safety No. 1, but we also need to carry on. We need to move toward the future. We need to make sure that we’re prepared when we come out of this to be in a position to start our season on time and play our season. That’s our role.”
Normalcy, at least among the picks, was the order of the evening, though.
First came Burrow, a transfer from Ohio State in 2018. In his spectacular senior season, he threw for 60 — yes, 60 — touchdowns with only six interceptions. The Tigers beat six top 10 teams on their way to the national title.
“To jump up to No. 1 overall is crazy to me,” Burrow said.
He joins a team that went 2-14 last season and desperately needs a jolt of energy.
“If you go in thinking, ‘Oh, this is the year we’re going to make the playoffs, this year we’re going to win a playoff game,’ it gets too daunting,” Burrow said. “You’ve got to focus on the process.”
Bengals coach Zac Taylor was confident Burrow could turn the franchise around.
“We will never pick at No. 1 again,” Taylor said. “We don’t want to pick in the top 10 again. We’re looking at this as the only time you’re going to get this caliber player to add him to the program, so obviously this is a big deal.”
The second overall selection, Ohio State All-America edge rusher Chase Young, also was predictable. Washington fielded several offers for that spot, but many scouts and personnel executives felt Young was the best player in this crop.
At 6-foot-5, 264 pounds, Young led the nation with 16 1/2 sacks and forced fumbles with six last season. The All-American won the prestigious Bednarik and Nagurski awards in 2019, leading the Buckeyes to the Big Ten title.
He joins a Redskins team that went 3-13 and allowed 435 points.
“I feel like I’m the best player in this draft,” Young said. “What I bring to the table and how I prepare, I definitely believe I’ll make a pretty big impact on the field.”
If not for the NFL’s obsession with finding the latest, greatest quarterback prospect, Young might have been the top overall selection. That QB infatuation led Miami to Tua Tagovailoa and the Los Angeles Chargers to Justin Herbert — no surprises there. But Green Bay took a chance at No. 26 by taking Utah State QB Jordan Love.
Alabama’s Tagovailoa went fifth, followed in the next spot by Oregon’s Herbert. They were preceded by Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah, the highest-rated cornerback, to Detroit, and Georgia tackle Andrew Thomas to the Giants.
Tagovailoa’s health issues didn’t turn off the Dolphins.
The Alabama quarterback went to a team that was accused going into last season of “Tanking for Tua.” Tagovailoa comes off major hip surgery, which made his landing spot one of the first round’s biggest uncertainties.
“For me and my family, whoever decided to take a chance on us, that’s where I belonged,” Tagovailoa said. “My biggest thing is I’m trying to prove this was the right decision.”
One change he’ll need to make in Miami: No. 13 is not available. The Dolphins retired it for Hall of Famer Dan Marino.
“I understand No. 13 is retired, and it should be,” Tagovailoa said. “Whatever number I’m given by the organization, if it’s 78 or 99, I’ll wear it.”
Blessed with a quick release, excellent mid-range accuracy and nimble feet, Tagovailoa threw 76 touchdown passes in 24 starts the past two seasons. He helped the Crimson Tide to the 2017 national title.
Herbert had a strong postseason, including a terrific Senior Bowl week that raised his stock. At 6-foot-6, 236 pounds, he has the size the pros like, and he’s a good athlete. But he also is not as accurate passing as he’ll need to be.
Los Angeles had a burning hole at quarterback after letting go of longtime starter Philip Rivers. Plus, the Chargers plan to move into a new stadium and could use someone to help sell tickets.
“This is a special opportunity. Words can’t describe how excited and thrilled and fired up I am for this,” Herbert said.
It took until the 13th spot before a trade was made: Tompa, oops, Tampa Bay moving up one spot to get tackle Tristan Wirfs of Iowa to help protect new/old QB Tom Brady. The Buccaneers got that pick from NFC champion San Francisco.
Wide receiver is the deepest position in this draft, but it took until the 12th selection for one to go. Alabama’s Henry Ruggs III, perhaps the fastest man in this group (4.27 in the 40), was the first-ever draftee by the Las Vegas Raiders. Coach Jon Gruden loves speed, and he got a burner who scored 24 touchdowns among 98 career receptions.
New England, which will go into a season without Brady for the first time since 1999, sent its 23rd overall spot to the Chargers, adding a second- and third-rounder. The Chargers were eager to bolster their defense with Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray.
The Packers, despite needs at receiver, offensive line and linebacker, traded up from No. 30 to 26th and selected for the future with Love. Aaron Rodgers, of course, sat for a few years in Green Bay behind Brett Favre. Love might do the same behind A-Rod.
LSU had five first-rounders, with LB K’lavon Chasson (No. 20, Jacksonville), WR Justin Jefferson (22, Minnesota), LB Patrick Queen (28, Baltimore) and RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (32, Super Bowl champ Kansas City) joining Burrow.

Rams sit out 1st round, prepare for big Day 2 at NFL draft

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Rams’ success over the past few years has been built on obtaining or keeping elite veteran talent.
That mentality has left them with four straight boring Thursday nights at the NFL draft.
The Rams didn’t make a first-round pick for the fourth consecutive season Thursday night. Jacksonville acquired the Rams’ first-round pick last year in the trade for Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey, and the Jaguars used that 20th overall selection on LSU edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson.
Right when the Jags made their pick, the Rams tweeted out a highlight reel of Ramsey’s play for the Rams, adding: “We got our guy.”
That guy also cost Los Angeles’ first-round pick next season, but Ramsey is a star in a city that loves them. The rest of the Rams’ draft will be about finding complementary talent to go around Ramsey, Aaron Donald, Jared Goff and the other elite veterans already on their salary cap-strapped roster.
The action should pick up for the Rams on Friday when they have the No. 52 and No. 57 overall picks in the second round, followed by two more selections in the third round. General manager Les Snead and coach Sean McVay will be much busier for the rest of the weekend after sitting out the opening night.
The Rams have plenty of depth needs to fill in the next two rounds, but they’ll be limited by the dwindling stock of difference-making players.
“When you’re picking 52 (and) 57, there is an element that you have to allow the draft to come to you a little bit,” Snead said this week.
For instance, while the Rams would love to make a splash by choosing a big-play receiver to replace Brandin Cooks in a receiver-rich draft, they realize many elite pass-catching talents already will be out of that pool. They’ll choose the best players to provide upgrades or depth at several positions, particularly linebacker, defensive line, cornerback and even running back.
“Usually when a draft is considered deep in a position, it’s probable a lot of those players are gone in the first 32 (picks),” Snead said. “That’s usually what deep means. … It’s imperative for us to maybe get beyond some of the household names that make this draft deep, that are probably going to go in the top 32, and find some of those players that have a skill set that can fit into Sean’s offense.”
The Rams have made plenty of personnel splashes during their four years back home in Los Angeles, but they sat idle Thursday night. Meanwhile, their three rivals in the ultra-competitive NFC West all got better, and the crosstown Los Angeles Chargers landed two big-name first-rounders: quarterback Justin Herbert and linebacker Kenneth Murray.
The Rams? They haven’t made a pick higher than No. 44 overall in the four drafts since they moved up to choose Goff first overall in 2016.

Goff creates cap room for Rams to sign Floyd, Robinson

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Rams announced the signings of linebacker Leonard Floyd and defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson on Friday after quarterback Jared Goff restructured his contract to create salary cap room.
Floyd and Robinson agreed to join the Rams as free agents several weeks ago, but the announcements of their deals were delayed because they hadn’t been able to complete their physical exams because of the pandemic.
Goff agreed last year to a four-year contract extension with an NFL-record $110 million guaranteed. The extension doesn’t begin until the 2021 season, but Goff agreed to restructure the deal’s money distribution to create breathing room for the Rams.
“I don’t see why not,” Goff said this month. “It doesn’t change anything for me, and it helps the team out.”
Los Angeles is stretched near the limits of the salary cap even after releasing star running back Todd Gurley, trading receiver Brandin Cooks and losing several key players in free agency. In the past two years, the Rams have handed out the biggest contracts in NFL history for a quarterback, a running back and a defensive player.
Floyd joins the Rams after four seasons with the Chicago Bears, where he played under new Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley. He is expected to help out with pressure from the edge after the Rams lost Dante Fowler in free agency and released Clay Matthews to save money.
Robinson spent the past four seasons with the Detroit Lions. The Rams signed him as a probable replacement for longtime defensive tackle Michael Brockers, but the two will play together this season after Brockers returned to Los Angeles when his free agent deal with the Baltimore Ravens fell through over concerns about an ankle injury.
The Rams didn’t have a pick in the first round of the current draft after trading it to Jacksonville for star cornerback Jalen Ramsey last season.

Chargers take QB Justin Herbert 6th, LB Kenneth Murray 23rd

COSTA MESA (AP) — Tom Telesco is hoping Justin Herbert can be just as good as the last quarterback the Chargers drafted out of Oregon.
Los Angeles selected Herbert with the No. 6 pick of the NFL draft Thursday night. He is the first Ducks QB taken by the Chargers since they took Dan Fouts in the third round in 1973. Fouts led the franchise to four playoff trips and three division titles in a 15-year Hall of Fame career.
“This is a special opportunity. Words can’t describe how excited and thrilled and fired up I am for this,” Herbert said.
Telesco was not content with only one first-round pick, however. The general manager traded the team’s second- and third-round picks to New England to move up to the 23rd spot to take Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray. It is the first time since 2005 that the Chargers have had multiple first-round selections.
“We had talks with different teams in front of and behind us (when they were picking sixth),” Telesco said. “We got a player we really liked with Justin but also had some ammunition to move up and get Kenneth. All in all, it was a very rewarding day.”
The Chargers were in the market to take a quarterback in the first round for the fourth time since 1967 after they announced in early February that they would not re-sign Philip Rivers, who started 235 consecutive regular-season and playoff games over the past 14 seasons.
Herbert started 42 games at Oregon, compiling a 29-13 record with 10,541 passing yards and 108 total touchdowns. He led the Ducks to the Pac-12 championship last season and a win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, where he ran for three touchdowns and was named the offensive MVP. He thew for 32 touchdowns and only six interceptions in 14 games.
Herbert has shown the ability to excel in play action, but questions remain about his decision-making and accuracy. He boosted his stock at the Senior Bowl, completing 9 of 12 passes for 83 yards and a touchdown.
Herbert said he has been trying to refine his mechanics leading up to the draft.
Telesco has had his eye on Herbert for a while. He was at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Nov. 2 when Herbert went 21 of 26 for 225 yards and three touchdowns in a 56-24 win over Southern California.
“He brings us a lot with his combination of physical skills and style of play is intriguing to us,” Telesco said. “He is a big, fast dual-threat quarterback with room to grow.”
There won’t be any pressure for Herbert to come in and start immediately. Tyrod Taylor is likely to be the Chargers starter going into their first season at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, giving Herbert time to learn and develop.
Fouts said in a telephone interview that the Chargers made the right choice with Herbert.
“He’s smart, big and has a strong arm. He’s fearless. He’s got all the tools you can imagine,” he said. “The way I look at it he’s still young and the sky’s the limit. He’s going to a team with a lot of talent at receiver (Keenan Allen and Mike Williams) along with a good tight end and running game.”
Herbert was the third quarterback taken in the first six selections Thursday. Cincinnati selected LSU’s Joe Burrow with the first overall pick and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa went fifth to Miami.
Murray was a three-year starter at Oklahoma and lined up in the middle. He played nearly 91% of the Sooners’ defensive snaps the last three years and recorded 100 or more tackles the last two seasons. He also had 9.5 sacks and 37 tackles for loss during his career.
“He’s someone who we had graded very high and can play all the linebacker spots,” Telesco said. “He is long, fast, physical and plays with a violent mentality.”
Murray does project more as an outside linebacker but gives the Chargers a run stopper they have been lacking the past couple seasons. He is the first Sooners linebacker since Jackie Shipp in 1984 to go in the first round of the regular draft.
The Chargers met with Murray during the combine, but he was still surprised they moved up to get him.
“I was recruited to be a pass rusher, but I have the versatility to play inside or outside,” he said. “I’ve improved in my coverage skills as well as being a better player in space all three years.”
The Chargers’ next pick won’t be until the fourth round on Saturday. Offensive line remains a glaring area of need, particularly at left tackle.

SEC smashes record for most NFL draft picks in 1st round

The first round of the NFL draft opened and closed with players from the Southeastern Conference, a fitting way to mark the league’s record-setting night.
The football powerhouse had 15 players selected Thursday, smashing the previous mark of 12 set by the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2006 and matched twice by the SEC (2013, 2017).
The SEC’s most promising crop to date was flush with players from Alabama (four) and LSU (five). It included reigning Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow at the top followed by several more next-level starters — maybe even stars — at nearly every position.
The league fell just short of having as many players drafted in the first round as the rest of college football combined. Oddsmakers had listed the over/under for SEC players at 15½.
LSU cornerback Kristian Fulton, Alabama safety Xavier McKinney, Georgia running back D’Andre Swift and Alabama cornerback Trevon Diggs did not come off the board as some expected. They are expected to get selected early in the second round Friday night.
Georgia right tackle Isaiah Wilson gave the SEC the new record when Tennessee chose him with the 29th pick. Miami took Auburn cornerback Noah Igbinoghene next to make it 14 from the league. Kansas City capped the first round by drafting LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

Pick-Six: Intriguing players available on Day 2 of NFL draft

Six wide receivers were taken in the first round of the NFL draft and another half dozen could go on Day 2, when rounds two and three are completed.
The best safeties are still available because none were taken on Day 1. And there are plenty of good running backs left after only one went off the board in the first round.
The six most intriguing players available heading into Day 2 of the NFL draft.

Michael Pittman, WR, USC
Pittman is big and physical at 6-foot-4 and 224 pounds. And he torched a talented Utah secondary last season for 10 catches for 232 yards with a backup quarterback in the game. Expect another run on receivers with Pittman, Clemson’s Tee Higgins, Colorado’s Laviska Shenault Jr., Baylor’s Denzel Mims and Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool still on the board.

Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama
Alabama had four players taken in the first round, second only to national champion LSU’s five. But the two players generally regarded as the best safeties are from the SEC rivals and still available. McKinney is a rangy and versatile playmaker. LSU’s Grant Delpit was the Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s best defensive back last year, though he was much better in 2018 than 2019. Figure both could be gone by the third round.

Josh Jones, OT, Houston
Jones is an athletic four-year starter with first-round talent, but couldn’t crack into the first round where six tackles were taken. Boise State’s Ezra Cleveland is another athletic Group of Five tackle expected to be be off the board pretty early on Friday.

A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa
Epenesa was a productive former five-star recruit for the Hawkeyes, but his combine was just OK. That nudged him into Day 2 along with another Big Ten defensive end. Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos has more athleticism than Epenesa, but his game is not as refined. Still, both should provide good second-round value.

Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin
The only running back taken in the first round was Clyde Edwards-Helaire from LSU on the last pick to Kansas City. Taylor was one of the most productive running backs in NCAA history with three seasons of more than 1,900 yards. Will he be the next back off the board? Or maybe Georgia’s D’Andre Swift, who has far less tread on his tires. Or J.K. Dobbins, who had three 1,000-yard seasons for Ohio State.

Two Jakes
Four quarterbacks went in the first round, with Jordan Love from Utah State getting scooped up at No. 26 by the Green Bay Packers. Who will be the next quarterback taken?
It might be another competition between Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm. Eason was the starter at Georgia in 2017 before getting hurt and being replaced by Fromm. Eason transferred to Washington the next season.
Eason is a big guy with a huge arm, but up-and-down results. Fromm has all the intangibles but not quite the physical tools of Eason.
Or what about Jalen Hurts? He transferred from Alabama to Oklahoma and became a Heisman Trophy finalist last year.