Published November 20, 2014
Andrew Luck knew exactly where he was heading and the daunting task he faces.
So did Robert Griffin III.
What the NFL draft lacked in surprise and suspense with its top two picks, it certainly delivered in challenges for the league's newest stars.
Luck, the Stanford quarterback and overall No. 1, heads for Indianapolis where he must replace Peyton Manning, who merely won four MVP awards and a Super Bowl. RGIII answers the call in Washington, where he will try to soothe a devout but highly critical fan base.
"You don't really replace a guy like that," Luck said. "You can't. You just try to do the best you can. Obviously, he was my hero growing up."
His selection as the top pick was hardly a stunner. The Colts informed Luck last week that Commissioner Roger Goodell would announce his name first. Right behind him was Griffin; no suspense attached to that pick, either.
After being loudly booed at the outset, Goodell told a raucous crowd at Radio City Music Hall that "the season begins tonight, so let's kick if off." Then he did, congratulating Luck while the crowd chanted "RG3, RG3."
Luck left the stage, slapped hands with some fans in Colts shirts and headed to the interview room.
"I realize you could go crazy trying to measure yourself to Peyton Manning every day. That would be an insane way to live," Luck said. "I know his legendary status, really. Huge shoes to try and fill if you're trying to do that. ... If one day I can be mentioned alongside Peyton as one of the football greats, that would be a football dream come true."
To get Griffin, Washington dealt a second-round pick this year and its first-rounders in 2013 and '14 to St. Louis to move up four spots. But they wound up with the Baylor QB who beat out Luck for the Heisman Trophy.
Dressed in a light blue suit that didn't quite mesh with Redskins burgundy and gold — and wearing socks that fit the team's color scheme and proclaimed "GO CATCH YOUR DREAM" — Griffin had some trouble getting the Redskins hat over his braids. He ended up wearing it just a tad crooked while he flashed big smiles for photos.
"Go catch that dream — because a lot of times when you chase something you never get to it," he said. "So if you say, 'Hey, I'm going to go catch my dream,' you're already telling yourself that you're going to get it."
RG3 also sang the team's fight song during a conference call:
"Hail to the Redskins! Hail vic-tor-y!" Griffin said. "That's how I felt. It felt that good."
Less than an hour before Goodell began the draft, Cleveland and Minnesota pulled off a trade in what would become a virtual swap shop, with eight deals on opening night. The Browns moved up just one spot, from fourth to third, to ensure getting running back Trent Richardson of national champion Alabama. Minnesota received picks in the fourth, fifth and seventh rounds and still was in position to get one of the elite prospects in this draft with the fourth spot overall, Southern California offensive tackle Matt Kalil.
Like Griffin, Richardson was treated to lusty cheers from the crowd. Unlike Griffin, he had less trouble placing the Cleveland hat over his impressive dreads.
"This team really wants me," Richardson said. "They ain't going to let me slip out of their hands at all."
Luck's good fortune put him in a similar position to Stanford predecessors Jim Plunkett, who won two Super Bowls for the Raiders, and John Elway, who led Denver to two NFL titles. He is the fourth consecutive quarterback chosen first and 12th in the last 15 years, dating back to Manning.
Elway now runs the Broncos and recently signed Manning as a free agent after Manning missed all of last season following neck surgery.
Indianapolis was the only team in the first seven picks to stay put.
After Minnesota took Kalil, Jacksonville jumped up two spots, trading with Florida neighbor Tampa Bay to get Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, the top receiver in this crop.
"It just goes to show you that anything can happen," Blackmon said, referring to the Jaguars going after him.
St. Louis must have liked dealing down because the Rams did it again, trading with Dallas, which was 14th overall. The Cowboys selected LSU's Morris Claiborne, the top cornerback, adding him to free agent signing Brandon Carr and shoring up what was a Swiss cheese secondary.
St. Louis got a second-rounder in the deal.
Tampa Bay finished off a wild 30 minutes of bartering by grabbing Alabama safety Mark Barron seventh overall.
A third quarterback went eighth where Miami — can you believe it? — stayed put. The Dolphins took Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill, who played wide receiver for most of his time in college. His coach at A&M, Mike Sherman, is the Dolphins offensive coordinator.
Carolina selected Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, the nation's leading tackler. Buffalo chose cornerback Stephon Gilmore of South Carolina and Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe went to Kansas City before the next trade occurred.
Philadelphia moved up from 15 to 12, giving Seattle two later picks, then took Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.
Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd went to Arizona, then the Rams finally got involved, taking LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers.
Three more defensive players followed: West Virginia end Bruce Irvin to Seattle, North Carolina end Quinton Coples to the Jets, and Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick to Cincinnati.
New England made two deals later in the first round, with Cincinnati to get Syracuse DE Chandler Jones, and with Denver to draft Crimson Tide linebacker Dont'a Hightower. Minnesota also traded back into the round, getting Baltimore's No. 29 slot and selecting Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith.
Tampa Bay also got back into the first round at No. 31, dealing with Denver, then taking Boise State running back Doug Martin.
The Super Bowl champion Giants concluded a swift but hectic round by choosing Virginia Tech running back David Wilson.