BALTIMORE: Ravens draft LSU linebacker Patrick Queen with 28th pick
OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Baltimore Ravens got a potential starter in the middle of their defense by selecting linebacker Patrick Queen out of LSU with the 28th overall pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night.
Queen had 85 tackles, three sacks and an interception to help the Tigers win the national championship last season. Over his three-year career he amassed 131 career tackles, including 17 1/2 for a loss and four sacks.
Queen opted to put his name into the NFL draft after his junior season. He has the potential to step in and start immediately, as evidenced by his 16 tackles in the Tigers’ two College Football Playoff games.
“He's still very young, but he played great football," coach John Harbaugh said of the 20-year-old. “He's flying around in the biggest games against the best teams, making play after play. That's what I saw, and that's what matters to me."
Queen is poised to play the same position that Ray Lewis manned for 17 seasons during a Hall of Fame career.
“He really is legit," Harbaugh said. “His best football is in front of him, and he's got some really good tape behind him."
Baltimore had a difficult time filling the middle linebacker spot after C.J. Mosley left to the Jets as a free agent following the 2018 season. Patrick Onwuasor and Josh Bynes were adequate, but both players departed during the offseason as free agents.
“This guy just really fits us," second-year general manager Eric DeCosta said of Queen. “In this case, what was great about Patrick was, not only was he a need, but he was also very much the very best player on the board at that time for us. When that happens, it's a great win for the organization."
The 6-foot, 229 pound Queen joins a defense that last year was overshadowed by a powerful offense that averaged 33.2 points per game.
DeCosta focused heavily on improving the defense during free agency, shoring up the line by obtaining tackle Calais Campbell in a trade with Jacksonville and signing former Broncos end Derek Wolfe to a one-year contract.
Those moves were made after Baltimore allowed a franchise-record 4.4 yards per rush in the regular season and allowed Derrick Henry to ramble for 195 yards in Tennessee's 28-12 upset victory over the Ravens in the playoffs.
In another nod to the defense, DeCosta placed the franchise tag on outside linebacker Matthew Judon, who led the team with 9 1/2 sacks.
DeCosta hopes to address several other deficiencies during the 25th draft in Ravens history. He got the ball rolling by taking Queen, and has two more days to add to the list. Baltimore has four picks on Friday during the second and third rounds — Nos. 55. 60, 92 and 106.
“It's wide open," DeCosta said. “We see great potential to improve the team."
Baltimore went 14-2 last year and entered the postseason riding a 12-game winning streak behind the play of multi-faceted quarterback Lamar Jackson, selected in the first round of the 2018 draft. Jackson ran for 1,206 yards, a single-season NFL record for a quarterback, and threw 36 touchdown passes for the highest scoring offense in the league.
But the Ravens sputtered against the Titans in the playoffs, and the retirement of eight-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda created a hole that must be filled. DeCosta is also looking for a deep threat to complement Marquise Brown, who caught seven touchdown passes after being drafted 25th overall in 2019.
“Hopefully, we can build our offense to the point where (it is) undefendable,” DeCosta said before the draft.
In preparing for the first virtual draft in NFL history, DeCosta was confident that the Ravens would be able to conduct business as usual.
And that's how it turned out — even though DeCosta, Harbaugh and director of player personnel Joe Hortiz all operated from their own homes.
“Not being with these guys on such a special night is a different experience, but we're together, sort of, virtually," DeCosta said.
-- By David Ginsburg, AP
PITTSBURGH: Steelers rare first-round spectators
PITTSBURGH — Mike Tomlin doesn't need to let the post-NFL draft grades come in. The Pittsburgh Steelers coach is certain his team hit a home run in 2020 regardless of what happens over the next three day.
It helps when your first-round pick already has All-Pro on his resume.
While teams scrambled to figure out the first “virtual” NFL draft, the Steelers spent Thursday night monitoring it from afar. No need to get worked up over logistics — at least not yet — with safety Minkah Fitzpatrick already in the fold.
Pittsburgh sent its first-round pick to Miam i last fall in exchange for the dynamic Fitzpatrick, whose arrival was the missing piece the the club's defense needed to become one of the league's best. If it renders the team a spectator during the first round for the first time since 1967, so be it.
“To be honest with you, I’m not fretting at all about not having a first pick,” Tomlin said. “That first pick is Minkah Fitzpatrick, and we have already benefited from his presence and looking forward to continuing to do so."
Fitzpatrick picked off five passes, scored a pair of touchdowns and finished with 57 tackles as the quarterback in the secondary. His arrival helped keep Pittsburgh in contention for a playoff spot into the final weeks of the season even with Ben Roethlisberger sidelined for almost the entire year due to a right elbow injury. Hard to imagine the 18th overall pick on Thursday — the one the Steelers would have had if it hadn't acquired Fitzpatrick — making a bigger impact.
General manager Kevin Colbert admitted the team doesn't have enough capital to trade up into the first round, meaning Pittsburgh likely won't be on the clock until the middle of the second round on Friday with the 49th overall selection.
Pittsburgh conducted 125 interviews between the Senior Bowl, the NFL combine and Zoom meetings over the last three months. Though there are some question marks — Colbert said there were 76 players with incomplete physicals because they were unable to get re-evaluated because of the pandemic shutdown — the team believes it as prepared as possible.
“We have absolutely no complaints,” Colbert said. “It’s been different. We had three solid weeks of meetings with the coaches and the scouts. We put our board together. We’re not sitting in a room, but we all can see a board and it’s been great.”
The Steelers find themselves in an interesting position. They managed to go 8-8 despite jockeying between three different quarterbacks. The defense looks set for next year after the team opted to place the franchise tag on outside linebacker Bud Dupree.
There are holes and question marks on offense, particularly at running back and wide receiver.
There's also one at quarterback, at least in theory. Neither Mason Rudolph nor Devlin Hodges made an emphatic claim to become the 38-year-old Roethlisberger's eventual successor. Colbert stressed the Steelers are confident in Roethlisberger returning to form this fall but believes there is solid depth at the position.
“There are several players in that group that are going to be future starters, possible Pro Bowlers,” Colbert said. “There are some nice backups. If any pick makes sense at any time of course we’ll make those picks.”
-- By Will Graves, AP
CLEVELAND: Browns nab Bama's Wills with No. 10 pick to plug tackle hole
CLEVELAND — Jedrick Wills protected Tua Tagovailo's blind side at Alabama. He's now got Baker Mayfield's back.
The Cleveland Browns filled an enormous hole at starting left tackle by selecting Wills, one of college football's best right tackles, with the No. 10 overall pick in Thursday's NFL draft.
A starting left tackle has been a top priority over the past two seasons for the Browns, and this was the perfect year to find one with four top-rated tackles expected to go in the top 15 picks. When it was Cleveland's turn to pick, new general manager Andrew Berry, who returned to the Browns after one season in Philadelphia's front office, made Wills the first pick of his tenure.
“We thought he was a guy who fit in terms of talent, makeup and need," Berry said. "He's perfect for us.”
The 6-foot-4, 312-pound Wills played right tackle for the Crimson Trade, but he — and the Browns — are confident he can slide to the other side and perform at a high level. The Browns are set at right tackle after signing free agent Pro Bowl tackle Jack Conklin to a three-year, $42 million contract last month.
First-year coach Kevin Stefanski said Plan A is for Wills to start at left tackle with Conklin on the right side, but the team will be open-minded if a change is necessary.
“I do think there is going to be some physical reprogramming or gaining a little bit of comfort," Berry said. "From our perspective with Jed, the reason that he was playing the right side at Alabama is because they had a very successful left-handed quarterback. In terms of the actual physical skill set — his speed, his athletic ability and his ability to pass-protect — all of those are top-notch from our perspective, and we think that he can really play either side of the line of scrimmage.”
Wills was at home with some family members in Lexington, Kentucky, when the Browns called. He was thrilled to hear they had him ranked as the best tackle in the draft.
“It means a lot,” he said. “I firmly believed that I was, so them believing (in) me, it makes me feel good and I’m going to prove them right.”
Going in to the draft, the Browns were in a perfect position to find their left tackle and they investigated acquiring seven-time Pro Bowler Trent Williams from Washington. Williams has been on the Browns' radar for more than year. Former general manager John Dorsey wanted to trade for him last year, but the Redskins were unwilling to deal the 31-year-old.
Berry would not comment on whether the Browns made another run at Williams.
Cleveland's been looking for a long-term solution at left tackle since perennial All-Pro and likely Hall of Famer Joe Thomas ruptured his triceps in 2017 and retired before the 2018 season.
Stefanski said he's planning to hook Wills up with Thomas, who has remained connected to the Browns in retirement.
Wills said Thomas did indeed reach out to him before the draft and again after the Browns selected him. Wills has also heard from Mayfield and he exchanged tweets with star Odell Beckham Jr., asking the wide receiver to “lemme know how much time you need to finish your route 13.”
When it was Cleveland's turn to pick at No. 10, Berry said the Browns were surprised three top tackles were still left. At that point, Georgia's Andrew Thomas was the only top tackle prospect not available after going to the New York Giants at No. 4.
Iowa's Tristan Wirfs and Louisville's Mekhi Becton were still on the board, but Berry opted for Wills, who made 28 consecutive starts for coach Nick Saban at Alabama and faced some of the SEC's top edge rushers. Stefanski said Wills' college pedigree was a major factor in him separating from the others.
"Obviously ecstatic,” Stefanski said. “There’s a lot of things I like about this kid. He played a bunch of games down there at Alabama, he’ll turn 21 next month. I like his make-up, I like his tenacity, his toughness, his intelligence. Great movement skills, plays with a nastiness.
"I think we got a winner and I think we got the right person.”
Browns strategy officer Paul DePodesta said new offensive line coach Bill Callahan's work in Dallas in shifting Tyron Smith from a right tackle to left is a factor in the team's confidence Wills can do it.
Before drafting Wills, Berry said the Browns consulted with linebacker Mack Wilson, his former college teammate, and Wilson said, “Man, Jed's a baller.”
Berry said there were opportunities to trade down, acquire another pick and potentially still land Wills, but he didn't want to take any chances and addressed the Browns' most pressing need.
The Browns entered the draft with seven picks and are expected to address needs at safety and linebacker during the next few rounds.
-- By Tom Withers, AP
CINCINNATI: Bengals take Heisman winner Burrow 1st overall
CINCINNATI — Joe Burrow's next challenge is daunting: return to his home state and resurrect the woebegone Bengals. Given what he's accomplished, he's not lacking in confidence.
Cincinnati took the Heisman Trophy winner first overall in the NFL draft Thursday night, a move expected by everyone, including Burrow. The national title winner at LSU has spent weeks fielding questions about going to a franchise synonymous with futility.
He knows exactly what he's getting into.
Burrow developed his quarterback skills a few hours away in southeastern Ohio, leading his prep team to the playoffs. A failed stint at Ohio State became a launching point to a national title and Heisman Trophy at LSU.
For the draft Thursday, he wore a white shirt with the outline of Ohio and the 740 area code for southeast Ohio. He also held a black Bengals cap, waiting for the pick.
When the Bengals called to make it official, he donned the cap and became the face of the franchise.
“We will never pick at No. 1 again,” coach Zac Taylor said. “We don't want to pick in the top 10 again. We're looking at this as the only time you're going to get this caliber player to add him to the program, so obviously this is a big deal.”
Burrow’s roots in Ohio made him even more desirable for a team that's had some of the league's lowest attendance figures for years and will be renegotiating its lease for the stadium — named after founder Paul Brown — in a few years.
There’s a lot riding on this draft pick.
“He's been in the area and he knows what we're all about,” Taylor said. “There's probably people in the area who know what he's about and will probably be drawn to the Bengals.”
He moves to a team that went 2-14 last season in Taylor's first year, losing a club-record 11 games in a row. Cincinnati has lost 21 of its last 24 games.
That's what the Heisman winner is up against now.
“If you go in thinking, ‘Oh, this is the year we’re going to make the playoffs, this year we’re going to win a playoff game,’ it gets too daunting,” Burrow said. “You’ve got to focus on the process.”
Not that it's all up to Burrow, of course. In Cincinnati, it's about ownership. The Bengals have been through a dizzying list of coaches, coordinators and quarterbacks during one of the worst stretches in the league's 100-year history.
They've had only seven winning seasons in the last 29 years, a stunningly bad result in a league built upon parity. They haven't won a playoff game since the 1990 season, the fifth-longest streak of postseason futility.
The Bengals have had 18 different starting quarterbacks over that span, including Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer in 2003 who eventually demanded a trade rather than stay with the franchise.
“I think it's going to be a winning franchise for years to come and I want to play a part in it," Burrow said.
Burrow's career bloomed in Athens, Ohio, where his father, Jim, was an assistant coach at Ohio University. He took his high school team to the playoffs and went to Ohio State, where he failed to win the starting job. He transferred to LSU, where he had one of the best seasons by a quarterback in college history. Burrow threw a record 60 touchdown passes as the Tigers rolled to the national title last season.
The Bengals were impressed by his accuracy and good decision-making. Burrow really won them over when they talked during the lead-up to the draft.
“He came across to me like a guy that's been playing NFL football for 10 years,” offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said. “His knowledge was far superior to most kids coming out of college.”
He’ll supplant Andy Dalton as the face of Cincinnati’s franchise. Dalton has one year left on his contract and the Bengals are considering keeping him around to help Burrow get acclimated in an unusual offseason limited by coronavirus precautions.
-- By Joe Kay, AP