(Long Island, N.Y.) “We want football!” The chant was repeated over and over by the throng of fans in the rafters of Radio City Music Hall following a chorus of boos that greeted NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The 2011 NFL Draft went on as scheduled, but there was definitely an air of uncertainty surrounding the hallowed halls of the classic Manhattan establishment.
“Me too,” said a humbled Goodell in response to the audience’s request for action-packed Sundays this fall. But he did his job – as the mock drafts seemed to be on the money – announcing Auburn quarterback Cam Newton as the overall number one pick of the Carolina Panthers. Von Miller (outside linebacker, Texas A&M) went next to the Denver Broncos, with the Buffalo Bills selecting Marcell Dareus (defensive tackle, Alabama) third and the Cincinnati Bengals taking Georgia wideout AJ Green fourth.
When asked about the labor dispute and possible paydays down the road, Newton stayed with the present. “I’m really not focused on endorsements and money,” he said. “That’s something that’s going to take care of itself. The one thing I’m focused on, my number one priority, is getting in this organization and making steps as far as me becoming a better player.”
Perhaps the most talented player in the draft went next as defensive back Patrick Peterson (LSU) was chosen by the Arizona Cardinals. Perusing previous draft boards, this position has had the least amount of busts while quarterbacks are aplenty.
“I can’t wait to get to Arizona, show those guys what I have to offer and get them back to the Super Bowl,” said Peterson.
The first deal of the night occurred when the Cleveland Browns traded down from fifth to Atlanta, who may have reached a bit to grab Julio Jones, the 6’3″, 220-pound wide receiver from Alabama. The Falcons gave up a lot to move up 21 spots by trading their first round (27th overall), second (59th) and fourth (124th) picks, as well as a first and fourth rounder in 2012.
“Coach (Nick) Saban is a great coach to get you ready for the pros,” Jones said of his Crimson Tide collegiate mentor.
A second straight question mark came next, as the San Francisco 49ers drafted Missouri linebacker Aldon Smith in the seventh slot. Looking to replace Vince Young, the Tennessee Titans chose Jake Locker eighth. The Washington Huskies’ signal caller may have been taken first overall in 2010, but he chose to stay in school for his senior year.
The Dallas Cowboys received an ovation of boos from the pro-New York Giant crowd and selected tackle Tyron Smith out of USC ninth overall. Jacksonville swapped first round picks and added their second with the Washington Redskins to welcome quarterback Blaine Gabbert (Missouri) to the Jaguars to round out the top 10.
Giant fans were disappointed to hear OL Mike Pouncey’s name announced 15th as the Miami Dolphins’ pick, but they were more than happy with their consolation prize, Prince Amukamara. The talented defensive back from Nebraska may have fell a bit from where he was expected to go, but that is all forgotten judging by the warm welcome and wide smile on Amukamara’s face as he took the stage.
“I’m excited; I can hear them now,” he said of the local fans in attendance.
The Jets also had to resort to Plan B as the Cleveland Browns – who traded up after moving down – selected Baylor’s Phil Taylor. The interior defensive lineman had been on Gang Green’s wish list to replace Kris Jenkins. Instead, general manager Mike Tannenbaum went after Temple defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson at number 30, who is versatile enough to play either tackle or end.
“I can move along the line (and) play any position (on the) defensive line,” the newest Jet said. “That’s a credit to Temple playing in a 4-3 and a 3-4. It helped me out and I can fit in with whatever they need to be done at any position.”
All of this, of course, depends on when the labor issues are settled and we can get back to business. But for one evening, at least, we did have football.