For the third straight year I had the opportunity to cover the first round of the draft live from Radio City Music Hall in New York. It's a great venue for the event, but unfortunately their internet crashed almost the moment the draft began and never came back... It was almost funny to watch reporters from blogs to major news outlets, be completely cut off from the net for basically the duration of the draft.
All the buzz to before the draft began was about what what would happen when Roger Goodell came out on stage for the first time. He is the owners' face in this whole dispute and it was pretty obvious that he was going to get the brunt of the fans' frustration over the lockout. When he finally did come out about a half hour before the draft was set to start, he was treated to loud boos which segued into "We want football" chants. Goodell responded saying "I hear you, I'm with you." Of course, this only exacerbated the booing and chanting, but then Goodell shut them down. How?
He quiets the crowd and says he wants to have a moment of silence for the people affected by the tornadoes in Alabama. Plus he’s got all the players from Alabama and Nick Saban up there. So basically no one can boo anymore. In fact, they all cheer afterward. Now, I'm not saying he did it to get the fans off his back because it is a serious thing and the Alabama program has been especially affected by it. You could tell that Goodell, Saban and all the players were serious...
This was all before the draft started. Then when he came out for the start of the draft on TV, the reception really wasn’t all that bad because the crowd basically already figured they took their shot at him. I caught the scene on video after the jump.
Then Cam Newton was taken #1 and was the only player to get booed on stage. He was was booed in the introductions and soundly booed when he was picked. That was followed up by the Broncos pick of Von Miller, who just so happens to be a plaintiff in the antitrust lawsuit that the NFL lost (and is apparently going to destroy the NFL according to the Commish). So we were wondering how he might react to Goodell, but actually it was a really cool moment as the two had a big embrace. No handshake/hug combo. Full two armed hug.
This was the point that I noticed Chris Cooley sitting one row over from me. He probably couldn't have dressed down for the event more, which is maybe why I didn't notice him at first. Still, it was interesting to see a current player in the audience for the draft given the bitter labor situation.
The highlight of the draft was A.J. Green's girlfriend, who walked on stage in what one member of the media described as "the tightest dress I've ever seen." It was painted on and stopped at about her hips. Oh and did I mention she was gorgeous? Best moment of the night by far. Can't find a pic though.
Universal jeers for the Atlanta trade up for Julio Jones. They gave up two first round picks, a second and two fourths to move up to #6 to take WR Julio Jones from Alabama. One member of the media here called it a "franchise changing haul" for the Browns. Another said it was "another Herschel Walker deal" referring to the bounty of draft picks the Cowboys got for Herschel Walker, which ended up being the foundation of their 1990s dynasty.
Aldon Smith seemed to be called the first real "reach" of the draft. Most people in the media saw him going at least 10 picks later. Some say he could be this year's Tyson Alualu, who everyone saw as a reach last year. However, that wouldn't be bad news for the 49ers since Alualu had a really good rookie year. But if anyone thought Smith was a bit of a reach, that was nothing compared to what happened next.
The Jake Locker pick at #8 shocked almost everyone, but also elicited cheers from the media. It was the first real pick that media could have some fun with. The draft isn't fun until someone reaches for a QB. SI's Tony Pauline actually exclaimed "That was a great pick... in the second round!"
I said to Colts writer Brad Wells after the Locker pick "there's going to be a run on QBs here." Sure enough, there was. Locker went, then Gabbert, then Ponder. A media guy near me remarked, "This is like the 1999 class, except there's no Donovan McNabb."
Perhaps the NFL gods are finished punishing the Detroit Lions. Having Nick Fairley fall to them because of all those awful QB selections is the steal of the draft. With Fairley and Ndamukong Suh, they could potentially have the best defensive tackle pairing in a decade.
When Bruce Allen was hired as the GM of the Redskins, many predicted that we would be seeing a new and smarter Redskins team in the draft. Then they traded three picks for Donovan McNabb... However, here in 2011 it seems like the promise may finally be paying off.
Washington wisely traded down from #10 to a QB desperate team in Jacksonville, who saw a run on QBs and decided to go up and get Blaine Gabbert. Washington only moved back six spots and picked up an extra second round pick in the process. When their pick came up at #16, Ryan Kerrigan, who they likely wanted all along was still there. We may be seeing a new Redskins after all. Really nice bit of maneuvering by them. Who knows who will play QB for them, but either way this was a great first round for the Redskins. They got their man and replaced the picks in this draft that they wasted last year.
The inexplicable run on QBs at the top of the draft meant that a slew of a really good players slipped down to all the teams sitting in the late teens and early twenties. The Chargers got Corey Liguet, the Colts got Anthony Castonzo and the Giants were able to take Prince Amukamara. That's a great pick for them to get a good player at a position of need without even having to move up. It's actually interesting to see Prince fall to where he did. For months he was seen as a top ten pick, but in the past two weeks we've seen him slip in mock drafts to this late teens area. There's no doubt that the run on QBs pushed him down, but it could be that he was taken right where he belonged all along. Either way, Giants fans at Radio City went nuts and for good reason. It's a very good pick for them.
Speaking of Prince Amukamara, he may not have had any ladies the caliber of AJ Green, but he did have the most impressive and largest entourage. He had two ladies, which appear to be his mom and grandma out in full African dress. They were clad in long gold sequined dresses with giant gold headdresses. They wouldn't have been out of place on the Radio City stage on any other night but this. There were also probably 15 other people up there with him. It was really a sight.
I think the best moment of the first round was when the Eagles selected Danny Watkins, the offensive lineman from Baylor. Watkins was a firefighter in his native Canada for almost four years. So all of his old firefighter buddies came down from British Columbia to cheer him and when his name was called, they went nuts. Here's the video of all the firefighters on the balcony chanting "Danny! Danny!"
Later, when I went downstairs to interview Watkins, I had to wait while he spoke to Andy Reid's secretary about scheduling his meeting with the coach. This was the one sided conversation I heard, "Are we flying down there or what? ... Oh we're driving? ... Oh it's only an hour away? ... Oh that's right! Ma'am I'm from British Columbia and nothing is only an hour away."
Two interesting fan notes from the draft. There was a young kid who got into the Danny Watkins press conference somehow and actually asked a question. I assume the kid was jewish because he was wearing a yarmulke, however, it was also clear that he was an Eagles fan, because said yarmulke was green and white withe Eagles logo.
The other note is about autograph seekers. After the draft concluded I headed to the bathroom and who walks in after me? Michael Irvin and Marshall Faulk. Of course, we're in the bathroom so I'm not going to say anything to them. I leave and there's this family near the bathroom with their autograph pad and pen and the mom says "Michael Irvin just went into the bathroom so we should wait outside. Is that weird?"
I don't know if "weird" is the word lady.