Dante Fowler Jr., Shane Ray, Leonard Williams, Melvin Gordon and Todd Gurley count among the new pros who reflect on being first-round selections
CHICAGO — Roger Goodell had been booed three times before the first draft pick walked across the stage of the Auditorium Theatre on Thursday night.
The No. 1 pick, Jameis Winston, was watching at home in Alabama. The No. 2 pick, Marcus Mariota, was in his native Hawaii. Finally, the Jaguars snagged their preferred edge rusher with the third pick, and Dante Fowler Jr. walked across the stage with his blinding gold-studded Christian Louboutins.
“I wanted to be the first pick, growing up as a kid,” Fowler said. “But being the first defensive player off the board, that’s a dream come true.”
The first round was filled with less trade drama than expected (Chip Kelly did not get Mariota), a few notable tumbles due to off-field issues (Shane Ray, Randy Gregory and La’el Collins) and, of course, Goodell’s annual fan hecklers—some even more rowdy than usual after a tumultuous 2014 season.
Instead of having an in-depth conversation with one person for this week’s Talking Football, we asked questions of more than a dozen people to capture the sights and sounds of the NFL draft’s first round in downtown Chicago.
Shane Ray, former Missouri defensive end and No. 23 pick by the Broncos
Q: How much time this week did you spend talking to NFL teams about your arrest Monday morning and citation for misdemeanor possession of marijuana?
RAY: The past 72 hours of my life have been really dark. I haven’t really been able to spend time with my family. I’ve had to talk to teams consistently and explain to them that this one mistake doesn’t define my character. This one mistake isn’t going to change who I am, and I’m not a person who has character issues. It just took one team to pull the trigger and give me the chance. A lot of teams passed on me, and I feel that because the Broncos took a chance, that with the Broncos I will let all those teams know they made the huge-est mistakes of this draft.
* * *
Leonard Williams, former USC defensive end and No. 6 pick by the Jets
Q: With you, Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson on the defensive line, how often will the Jets’ defense have to blitz next season?
WILLIAMS: We probably won’t need the blitz at all. That helps out the secondary a lot. I feel like having a lot of great D-linemen frees up a lot of the other guys. [Offenses] might have to double-team one guy, and that leaves another guy with a one-on-one. I’m looking forward to playing with a great defensive line like that. I played in [Todd Bowles’] type of scheme for the past two years at USC, so I feel like I’m pretty seasoned with it, and I know what to expect.
* * *
Todd Gurley, former Georgia running back and No. 10 pick by the Rams
Q: There’s been a lot of talk that you’re the best back to enter the league since Adrian Peterson. What do you think of those high expectations?
GURLEY: It’s definitely a great honor. But you know, that’s not my job. My job is to be me, work hard, get on that field and try to make plays. I don’t try to be like anybody else, but it’s definitely a great compliment.
Q: Will you be ready for Week 1?
GURLEY: It’s a realistic goal. But I’m not putting a timetable on anything.
* * *
Mark Dantonio, Michigan State football coach and guest of Trae Waynes
Q: How do you think Mike Zimmer will use Trae Waynes in the Vikings’ defense?
DANTONIO: When you get a player, you just try to dial him in and see what he works at. Certainly he was drafted as a cornerback, but he’s got the abilities to play inside at safety if you ever need him to do that, as a cover safety, playing against slot receivers and things of that nature. And he’s also played enough nickel to step in there and play in the slot in nickelback situations. He’s the kind of guy who comes to work every day and tries to get better. He’s blessed with great athletic ability, I don’t think there’s any question about that. But it’s his demeanor and how he goes to work every day that will make him successful.
* * *
Melvin Gordon, former Wisconsin running back and No. 15 pick by the Chargers
Q: I think the entire TV audience is wondering the same question: Are you the happiest guy at the draft?
GORDON: I might be. I’ve been waiting for this moment for so long. I went to sleep and woke up plenty of times thinking I just got drafted, and it was just a dream. Now I can wake up the next morning and know I’m part of an organization.
* * *
Three NFL fans
Q: Why did you boo Roger Goodell?
Mark Juarez, San Jose, Calif., Bills fan attending his 15th draft: There are several reasons why I boo him. The way he handled the Ray Rice situation. It was so secretive...I feel like he is really trying so hard. There’s talk of putting a franchise in London. I mean, London? Really? If you want to have some games over there, that’s fine, but if you want another team, then stay in this country. I know this is all about making money, but no Super Bowl in London, no team in London or abroad anywhere. Some things do not need to change in this game.”
Torrence Moore, Bears season-ticket holder: He is non-tolerant, sort of an evil emperor and the fans don’t like that. The Ray Rice decision was one where I decided I didn’t like him. Let’s go back: he came in saying he was going to be tough, and when you are new on the job and you have a new leader who comes in and says, “It is my way or the highway,” that is going to have a certain effect on the people around you. Once you move past that and he makes some of the decisions that he has that have been overturned, it continues to play into his unpopular nature.
Ron Maxa, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Vikings fan: In the last year and a half he has done what is best in his view and not the league as a whole. That’s what I struggle with. It’s not just crowd mentality that I boo him, I am not a fan of his. I was a big Tagliabue guy and I feel like what Goodell has done, he’s just taken it in the direction he wants to go in, not an educated direction.”
* * *
DeVante Parker, former Louisville receiver and No. 14 pick by the Dolphins
Q: What’s your favorite route?
PARKER: The go route. Outside release.
* * *
Danny Shelton, former Washington nose tackle and No. 12 pick by the Browns
Q: Did you say you were doing homework the night before the draft?
SHELTON: Yeah, I still have classes. I tried to finish my homework last night, but I couldn’t. I had too much on my mind. So I’m going to try to finish it tonight.
Q: You’re going to spend draft night doing homework?
SHELTON: I want to celebrate with my family, too, but the homework assignment is due tomorrow.
Q: What is it?
SHELTON: I’m in biological anthropology, and I have a survey to do. It’s a quick assignment online. I’m gonna do that and email it to my teacher. It’s on nutrition and the type of habits humans have. I jotted down some of the things I ate yesterday. I was nervous, so I wasn’t eating too much. We’ll see how it comes out.
* * *
Rahm Emanuel, mayor
Q: Based on what you’ve seen tonight here and across the street in Grant Park, do you believe your city has done enough for the NFL to bring the draft back to Chicago?
EMANUEL: This was my whole goal, is for them to leave with one impression: Why didn’t we do this sooner? They’ve never had an event where they can interact with fans this way.
* * *
Brandon Scherff, former Iowa offensive lineman and No. 5 pick by Washington
Q: Once upon a time, you played quarterback. Would you do it again?
SCHERFF: Yeah, about 40 pounds ago. If they want me to do it, I’ll do it.
• Also on The MMQB: He was once just your typical rebound-grabbing, tape-measure home-run-mashing, serve-and-volleying, trombone-playing 270-pound high school quarterback. Then Brandon Scherff kept growing until he was the NFL draft's best—and nastiest—offensive line prospect
— With reporting by Kalyn Kahler
[widget widget_name="SI Newsletter Widget”]