Maybe the Southeastern Conference should simply hold onto its players and become part of the NFL.
The home of national champion LSU and perennial contenders Alabama, Georgia and Auburn, the SEC dominated the first four rounds of the NFL draft before the flow of talent slowed to a trickle. Or the conference finally began running out of top prospects.
The top four rounds are where the vast majority of pro starters are found. So beginning with LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, who went first overall to the Bengals, the SEC provided the mother lode. Heading into the sixth round, 50 players had come from its 14 teams — well, 13, because Ole Miss was ignored. LSU sent 12, followed by Alabama with nine.
“I think it’s really easy to see NFL players when you watch as many players get drafted from the SEC and from that conference,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said after his team grabbed Georgia tackle Isaiah Wilson and LSU cornerback Kristian Fulton. “But there’s great players in every conference. It’s just you don’t have to look too far to see them play against some really talented players.”
The Lions noticed. They took Georgia running back D'Andre Swift and Kentucky guard Logan Stenberg.
“The SEC, I would argue, is one of the top one or two conferences in college football. I think a lot of people say it is the best conference," Detroit general manager Bob Quinn said. “The competition that’s in that conference — from LSU to Alabama to Auburn to Georgia to all those schools — and some of the other teams have really, really good players. So the level of competition, they get the high recruits, they really do.”
Nearly every NFL club will have an LSU Tiger or member of the Crimson Tide on its roster by next week.
As the third day of this unusual draft progressed, it became clear that concerns about communication problems cropping up were vastly overblown. Clunky at times, poignant at others, and exceptionally entertaining in spots, the draft has done what Commissioner Roger Goodell hoped.
Sure, there were awkward moments, but those come even when the draft is a mega-event drawing hundreds of thousands of fans to the “Rocky Steps” in Philadelphia or lower Broadway in Nashville.
Goodell has insisted the sporting world needed the draft to be held on time. Yes, it's been remote/virtual/digital; make your own choice. But the amount of eyeballs watching has been, well, an eye-opening number. And through Friday's third round, the accompanying telethon had raised more than $5 million for six organizations battling the coronavirus pandemic.
“That work continues today,” Goodell said, “and the NFL will again match every dollar donated by fans.”
NFL general managers also put together donations, initiated by the Eagles' Howie Roseman, with each giving at least $8,000 for every selection in this draft.
The league even awarded the 2022 draft to Las Vegas after all events on the Strip for this year were canceled due to the nationwide shutdown of large gatherings to curb the spread of the virus.
To open Saturday, Appalachian State had its second player chosen, linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither, who went to Cincinnati. The Sun Belt’s defensive player of the year was a standout at the Senior Bowl — a game the Bengals coaching staff worked.
The Redskins dealt their unhappy veteran tackle Trent Williams to San Francisco on Saturday morning, and then chose LSU's Saadiq Charles, who has been plagued by off-field issues and served a six-game suspension.
The Niners, who later announced the retirement of longtime standout left tackle Joe Staley, sent a fifth-round pick in this year’s draft and a 2021 third-rounder to acquire Williams. The deal reunites him with 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, who was the offensive coordinator in Washington when Williams was drafted fourth overall in 2010.
San Francisco made two other trades, first sending Matt Breida, who was the Niners' starting running back for part of their NFC title season, to Miami. The Dolphins dealt a fifth-rounder to San Francisco.
Then the 49ers traded wideout Marquise Goodwin to Philadelphia for a swap of sixth-round spots.
The first quarterback chosen on Day 3 was Washington's Jacob Eason, who went to Indianapolis. The Colts, of course, signed Philip Rivers as a free agent and still have incumbent Jacoby Brissett. Both have contracts only through 2020, though.
Eason, whose father Tony was a wide receiver at Notre Dame, lost out to Jake Fromm at Georgia, then transferred to Washington. Fromm finally went 167th overall to Buffalo, which has a young QB in Josh Allen. Fromm likely was hurt by a mediocre combine performance. He was taken well after the Jets got Florida International QB James Morgan at 125th.
Meanwhile, the list of Power Five schools without players taken included Oklahoma State, Pitt, Arizona and Washington State.
AP Pro Football Writers Josh Dubow, Mark Long and Rob Maaddi contributed.
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