Wiping three hours' sleep from the corner of my eyes to the strains of the Kings of Leon warming up the baying draft crowd, the TV kicked into life in the early hours. I settled down bleary eyed but in high anticipation for this year's much awaited NFL Draft.
Memories of last year's draft, beamed live from commissioner Roger Goodell's study, were banished by the refreshing noise of a lively myriad of colourfully decked fans. Goodell's armchair was brought out on to stage, an eerie nod to the relatively sombre Draft Day a year ago,
Cleveland, hosting the draft for the first time, wheeled out Browns greats Bernie Kosar, Joe Thomas and Jarvis Landry to whip the crowd up before a video showing off the city's highlights was narrated by the great Jim Brown. "America's game returns to where it came from", he announced. Cleveland was pulling out all the stops. In the shadow of First Energy Stadium, the brightly lit stage was set. This is what a draft is meant to look and sound like.
So, the highlights:
Five were taken in the top fifteen. After the predicted 1-2 selections of Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson to the Jaguars and Jets respectively. San Francisco held the direction of the first round with the No.3 pick. I had tipped Mac Jones to be the pick here, after a bold trade up by the 49ers showing their intent to pick a quarterback. Pre-draft murmurs hinted at a spectacular trade for Aaron Rodgers, more on that later.
Trey Lance, with just 17 college games under his belt at second tier North Dakota State, but with arguably the biggest potential, is headed to California. Lance effectively won the lottery. He will line up for a team with a great left tackle protecting him, outstanding receivers to throw to and one of the best coaches in the game to learn from. All this too for a team that was in the Super Bowl only two years ago.
Chicago, wary of the Patriots sitting at No.15, traded up nine places to take Ohio State's Justin Fields and secure their QB of the future. Meanwhile the Patriots...
Mac Jones and the New England Patriots
Having been passed over by the 49ers, Mac Jones and the Patriots could have found their soul mate. Jones, having been moulded by one of the greatest coaches in college football history, Nick Saban, now continues his development under the most successful coach in NFL history. Bill Belichick. Saban and Belichick coached together previously in...Cleveland. It's a nice story. New England lands the highly intelligent and clinically accurate passer they've been missing since you-know-who left for Tampa Bay.
Having secured their quarterback with the top overall pick in 2020, Cincinnati gave Joe Burrow the best receiver in the draft, reuniting him with his old LSU team mate Ja'Marr Chase with the fifth pick. Bengals fans will be salivating at the prospect of the dynamic duo, who guided their college team to a national championship, linking up again.
This seemed to start a trend. At No.6, Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle was reunited with his college QB Tua Tagovailoa in Miami. Fellow Crimson Tide alumni Jalen Hurts is entering his second year, and first as the likely starting quarterback in Philadelphia. The Eagles followed the Dolphins, traded up two places and gave Hurts a formidable weapon in former team mate and Heisman Trophy winning receiver Devonta Smith at No.10. The pair had partnered as freshmen on Alabama's 2018 national championship winning team.
Finally, having secured Trevor Lawrence at No.1, Jacksonville used its second first-round pick to help the rookie settle in, reuniting him with Clemson team mate and running back, Travis Etienne at No.25.
Matching the Miami Hurricanes' memorable draft class of 2004, six Crimson Tide players were taken in the first round, all by pick No.24. It's a ringing endorsement of the best team in college football.
SEC Wide Receivers
Five receivers were off the board in Round 1, four of whom - Chase, Waddle, Smith and Florida's Kadarius Toney (taken by the Giants at No.20), play in the powerful Southeastern Conference. Minnesota's Rashod Bateman, from the Big Ten Conference, became the latest weapon in the Baltimore Ravens' impressive arsenal, at No.27.
With five receivers taken in Round 1, it seemed only fair that five cornerbacks should also be taken, evidence of the increasing importance of this specialist position.
South Carolina's Jaycee Horn and Alabama's Patrick Surtain II went in the Top 10, to Carolina and Denver respectively. The late twenties picks saw the talented Greg Newsome II taken from Northwestern by the draft's home team, Cleveland, to rapturous applause. Green Bay used their first round pick on a defensive player for the ninth year out of ten, securing the speedy Eric Stokes from Georgia. Stokes has run a 10.39 100m time, and line up opposite Jaire Alexander.
Arguably the steal of the round was Virginia Tech's Caleb Farley, who fell to Tennessee at No.22. He had been touted as the top corner available, slipping down teams' draft boards after undergoing back surgery, The Titans have history here. Their patience was similarly rewarded when the outstanding Jeffery Simmons fell to them at No.19 two years ago, having torn his ACL training for the draft.
I challenge any mock drafter to predict the Raiders' pick in Round 1 on NFL Drafts. Having previously selected Clelin Ferrell (at No.4), and Damon Arnette in first rounds, Mike Mayock once again used a high pick on a player likely to be available much later. Las Vegas used the No.17 pick on Alex Leatherwood, the offensive tackle from Alabama, a talented player, but widely projected to fall late in the second round.
What is it with Aaron Rodgers and Draft Day?
Rodgers was reputedly miffed over the Packers' selection of quarterback Jordan Love as their first round pick last year, one of the headlines of the 2020 NFL Draft. He went on to win the NFL's MVP award, leading Green Bay to their second NFC Championship game in two years, falling one game short of the Super Bowl again.
His own draft experience saw him fall from a touted No.1 overall pick in 2005, to No.24 where Green Bay selected him as Brett Favre's successor. Rodgers' haunted expression as he fell further and further was the memory of that day and has been the fire that has fuelled his Hall of Fame career.
This year, the spectre of Rodgers appeared over the draft once again. Rumours were rife that Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers have not reached agreement over a restructure or extension of contract for their quarterback and while talks of a potential trade surfaced, nothing has materialised.
There are still some great players available for teams to add to their rosters. Rounds 2 and 3 kick off in the early hours tomorrow.
Round 1 in full:
Jacksonville Jaguars - Trevor Lawrence, Quarterback - Clemson
New York Jets - Zach Wilson, QB - Brigham Young
San Francisco 49ers - Trey Lance, QB - North Dakota State
Atlanta Falcons - Kyle Pitts, Tight End - Florida
Cincinnati Bengals - Ja'Marr Chase, Wide Receiver - LSU
Miami Dolphins - Jaylen Waddle, WR - Alabama
Detroit Lions - Penei Sewell, Offensive Tackle - Oregon
Carolina Panthers - Jaycee Horn, Cornerback - South Carolina
Denver Broncos - Patrick Surtain II, CB - Alabama
Philadelphia Eagles - DeVonta Smith, WR - Alabama (trade with Cowboys)
Chicago Bears - Justin Fields, QB - Ohio State (trade with Giants)
Dallas Cowboys - Micah Parsons, Linebacker - Penn State
L.A. Chargers - Rashawn Slater, OT - Northwestern
New York Jets - Alijah Vera-Tucker, Guard - USC (trade with Vikings)
New England Patriots - Mac Jones, QB - Alabama
Arizona Cardinals - Zaven Collins, LB - Tulsa
Las Vegas Raiders - Alex Leatherwood, OT - Alabama
Miami Dolphins - Jaelan Phillips, EDGE - Miami
Washington Football Team - Jamin Davis, LB - Kentucky
New York Giants - Kadarius Toney, WR - Florida
Indianapolis Colts - Kwity Paye, EDGE - Michigan
Tennessee Titans - Caleb Farley, CB - Virginia Tech
Minnesota Vikings - Christian Darrisaw, OT -Virginia Tech
Pittsburgh Steelers - Najee Harris - RB - Alabama
Jacksonville Jaguars - Travis Etienne, RB - Clemson
Cleveland Browns - Greg Newsome II, CB - Northwestern
Baltimore Ravens - Rashod Bateman, WR - Minnesota
New Orleans Saints - Payton Turner, Defensive End - Houston
Green Bay Packers - Eric Stokes, CB - Georgia
Buffalo Bills - Gregory Rousseau, EDGE - Miami
Baltimore Ravens - Jayson Oweh, EDGE - Penn State
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Joe Tryon, EDGE - Washington