LSU dominates opening night of NFL draft with a school-record five first round picks

PHOTO BY JOHNATAN MAILHES

The 15-0 2019 LSU football team can’t stop making history.

The Tigers became the first unbeaten and untied college national championship team in the 85-year history of the NFL draft to have the first and last players picked in the first round Thursday night.

Heisman Trophy winning quarterback and Ohio native Joe Burrow went No. 1 overall to his homestate Cincinnati Bengals, the NFL’s worst team in 2019, while running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire was drafted No. 32 overall by the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.

The surprise pick of Edwards-Helaire, who was projected as mid-second round selection, gave LSU a school-record five players taken in the first round surpassing the old mark of four set in 2007.

Besides Edwards-Helaire, defensive end/outside linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson went No. 20 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars, wide receiver Justin Jefferson at No. 22 to the Minnesota Vikings and inside linebacker Patrick Queen at No. 28 to the Baltimore Ravens.

The Tigers had the most first-round picks of any program and had as many opening night draftees as the Big Ten and Big 12 had each. LSU’s five first round selections were just one shy of tying the all-time mark of six set by Miami 2004.

The Tigers joined Ohio State in 2016 and 2006, Miami in 2002 and Southern Cal in 1968 as the only schools in college football history to have five players selected in the first round of the NFL draft. The SEC had a record 15 first-rounders accounting for almost half of the first round field.

In accordance with social distancing guidelines, the Thursday’s first round was conducted by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell from the basement of his Bronxville, N.Y. home.

Burrow had a relaxed evening knowing he would be the first player taken after Bengals’ owner Mike Brown sent him a letter welcoming him to the team.

Wearing a special-Nike made 740 area code shirt to rep his part of Ohio, Burrow repeatedly said in a 27-minute Zoom videoconference after being selected that he didn’t feel the pressure of being the No. 1 overall pick.

“For me, it doesn’t matter where I got picked,” Burrow said. “I could have been the 189th pick or I could be No. 1. I’m going to work the exact same and try and be the best quarterback I can be for this city.”

Bengals’ coach Zac Taylor said he and general manager Brian Callahan knew for the last two weeks that Burrow was their man.

“All the pieces fit together,” Taylor said. “Not only the stuff you saw on film and the field, but the leadership and work ethic he brought to the program. Talking to those close to him, he brought a lot of intangibles to the table. Then you turn on the tape it verifies everything you’ve heard. He’s worthy of the first pick, and we’re excited to get him into the building.”

Callahan was blown away by Burrow’s football I.Q., one which dissected defenses last season for 5,671 passing yards and NCAA record 60 TDs.

“He came across like a guy that had been playing NFL football for 10 years,” Callahan said of Burrow. “The most impressive thing was his ability to understand how it all fits together — what the defense is doing, what the offense is doing, what the protection scheme is. His knowledge was far superior (to) most kids coming out of college.”

Chaisson, who told reporters at February’s NFL combine that he was “the best athlete in the draft,” drove home the point in a teleconference with Jacksonville media late Thursday.

“I can play different positions,” Chaisson said. “Players like that are critical in today’s game. I feel like I could make an impact if you put me at guard. Put me at center. That’s just who I am. I feel like I’m the best player when it comes to physical characteristics as well as mentally, football IQ, just all around.”

Jaguars’ general David Caldwell says Chaisson is “just scratching the surface.”

“We feel like he can bring a presence on the edge,” Caldwell said. “He can set the edge as a very good run defender. You see him against big SEC tackles blocking guys out.”

Jefferson became the fifth LSU wide receiver taken in the draft’s first round and the 16th Tigers’ pass-catcher since 2000.

For someone who elevated from a three-star recruit to college football’s leading pass catcher last season, being a first-round choice of the Vikings was still surreal.

“I was very small, undersized, lightly recruited,” Jefferson said in a media teleconference. “Definitely didn’t think this would be coming.”

Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer noted Jefferson played in a system at LSU similar to the Vikings.

“Justin’s a guy that we really, really liked,” Zimmer said. “He’s a tough, competitive guy who goes up and gets the football. He’s hard worker, makes a lot of contested catches and is a good kid.”

Queen, who didn’t even break into the Tigers’ starting defensive lineup last season until the fourth game, felt like the Ravens are a perfect fit for him.

“I’m going to bring everything to the table that their defense is known for, the passion, aggression, just total dominance of the defensive side,” Queen said in a media teleconference. “It’s a brotherhood over there. You can see it from past years, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs. It’s just so much passion.”

Ravens’ coach John Harbaugh lauded Queen for playing well in what he described as “LSU’s pretty complex (defensive) system.”

“I think he’ll fit our scheme very well,” Harbaugh said. “For us to come away with Patrick Queen is a big win.”

Edwards-Helaire, who ran for 1,414 yards and an SEC-leading 16 TDs last season, and caught a school-record 55 passes for 453 yards, said he and the Chiefs are a nice match.

“They like to get the ball to their backs in space, and that’s where I thrive,” Edwards-Helaire said in a teleconference. “The whole offense is a perfect fit for me.”

Chiefs general manager Brett Veach called Edwards-Helaire “a unique player and a unique talent.”

“The kid’s vision and running instincts are rare,” Veach said. “The guy has the ability to play the game in slow motion. His lateral movement, his ability to start and stop, re-direct out of the backfield. . .some guys have one trait or the other but he has all those traits.”

The second and third round of the draft continues Friday starting at 6 p.m. on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 and the NFL Network.

As many four to five Tigers’ may hear their name called including cornerback Kristian Fulton, safety Grant Delpit, center Lloyd Cushenberry, offensive guard Damien Lewis and offensive tackle Saahdiq Charles.

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