Los Angeles – Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Trey Lance were the first three picks of Thursday night’s NFL draft in Cleveland, marking just the third time the top three selections were all quarterbacks.
As expected, Lawrence went No. 1 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Wilson was chosen second by the New York Jets. The San Francisco 49ers’ target was a mystery going into the draft, and they took Lance.
There were also quarterbacks selected with the first three picks in 1971 and 1999.
Jim Plunkett went No. 1 overall to the New England Patriots in 1971, followed by Archie Manning to the New Orleans Saints and Dan Pastorini to the then-Houston Oilers. In 1999, the Cleveland Browns took Tim Couch first, Donovan McNabb was chosen second by the Philadelphia Eagles and Akili Smith went third to the Cincinnati Bengals.
That Lawrence would go No. 1 has been apparent for months. The former Clemson quarterback will be looked on as a savior by Jacksonville fans and is the team’s first choice under new head coach Urban Meyer.
The Heisman Trophy runner-up went 34-2 as a starter at Clemson and led the Tigers to the national championship as a freshman in 2018. He passed for 10,098 yards, 90 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He also ran for 18 touchdowns.
“I’m not expecting anyone to hand me anything,” Lawrence told ESPN from Seneca, South Carolina, where he watched the draft. “I want to come in there and earn the respect and trust of my teammates and the right to lead the team.
“My mindset always going in is, I’m going to earn anything that I get.”
The Jets coveted the efficient Wilson of BYU. New York recently gave up on Sam Darnold, trading the 2018 No. 3 overall pick to the Carolina Panthers to open the door to select Wilson.
“I know these guys need a good quarterback and a good leader and I think I got those qualities,” Wilson said on ESPN. “I can’t wait to go in there. I love the coaching staff, I love everything they have to offer and I can’t wait to get to New York City.”
Wilson completed 73.5% of his passes for 3,692 yards, 33 touchdowns and three interceptions last season. His stock soared throughout the year as his ability for firing pinpoint passes and avoiding miscues impressed NFL scouts.
Wilson started 28 of his 30 games over three seasons and passed for 7,652 yards, 56 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He also rushed for 15 scores.
The 49ers opted for Lance frorm North Dakota State with the third pick despite the 20-year-old’s relative lack of experience.
Lance started 17 games for the Bison, playing for the powerhouse FCS program in Fargo because major-college schools didn’t think he could be a quarterback at the FBS level.
As a redshirt freshman in 2019, he won the Walter Payton Award as the top player in FCS when he passed for 2,786 yards and 28 touchdowns without an interception in 16 games while leading North Dakota State to the national title. He played in just one game last fall — on Oct. 3 — due to North Dakota State postponing its season to the spring. Lance declared for the draft a few days later.
The 49ers already have Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback, but Lance will be expected to supplant him as the starter eventually.
“I’m excited to learn from him,” Lance said on ESPN. “Everything he does, he’s a mentor for me and I’m super excited to get there and learn as much as I possibly can.”
The Chicago Bears shook up the draft when they moved up to No. 11 to select Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields.
Fields threw 63 TD passes against nine interceptions over the past two seasons for the Buckeyes.
A fifth quarterback was chosen at No. 15 when the Patriots selected Alabama’s Mac Jones, who passed for 4,500 yards, 41 touchdowns and four interceptions last season.
Rumors before the draft floated the possibility Jones head to the 49ers at No. 3
“It’s not really where you get picked, it’s what you do with the opportunity,” Jones said.
The Atlanta Falcons ended the quarterback streak at the top of the draft by plucking Florida tight end Kyle Pitts with the fourth pick. Pitts caught 43 passes for 770 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. It marked the highest a tight end has ever been selected.
The Bengals chose LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase with the fifth overall selection. Chase opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns, but he was a major star in 2019 when he caught 84 passes for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns.
The Miami Dolphins also selected a receiver in the No. 6 spot, picking Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle, who doubles as a strong return specialist. He had three return scores (two punts, one kickoff) during his three college seasons.
Waddle had his season interrupted in mid-October due to a fractured ankle before returning to play in the national championship game when Alabama routed Ohio State. He averaged 21.1 yards on 28 receptions in six games.
The Detroit Lions selected Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell — another player who opted out of the 2020 season — with the seventh selection. With the eighth pick, the Carolina Panthers tabbed South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn, the son of former NFL receiver Joe Horn.
Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II, also the son of a former NFL player, went ninth to the Denver Broncos.
The Eagles traded with the Dallas Cowboys to move up from No. 12 to No. 10 and selected Heisman Trophy-winning wideout DeVonta Smith. The Alabama product had a season for the ages in 2020 with 117 receptions for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns. He also rushed for a score and added a TD on a punt return.
“Every day, you’re going to get the best out of me no matter what the circumstances are, no matter how things are going, you’ll always get my best,” Smith said.
Dallas, which also received a third-round pick in this draft in the trade, chose Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, who opted out of the 2020 season.
The Los Angeles Chargers selected Northwestern offensive tackle Rashawn Slater (another opt out) with the 13th pick. Jets acquired the 14th pick from the Minnesota Vikings and chose USC guard Alijah Vera-Tucker.
Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins went 16th to the Arizona Cardinals, Alabama offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood was the 17th choice by the Las Vegas Raiders and Miami defensive end Jaelan Phillips went 18th to the Miami Dolphins.
The Washington Football team selected Kentucky linebacker Jamin Davis at No. 19, and the New York Giants chose Florida wideout Kadarius Toney at No. 20.
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