(Reuters) – The Cincinnati Bengals selected Louisiana State University’s Joe Burrow with the first pick of the NFL Draft on Thursday, one of several quarterbacks taken early in the event, which was held online in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
The 23-year-old quarterback, who won the Heisman Trophy as the best collegiate football player last December before leading the Tigers to a national championship the next month, was the consensus top choice.
“I would have told you you were crazy,” Burrow said when asked if he would have thought a year ago that he would be taken first overall in this year’s draft.
“I knew I was going to have a really good season because I knew we had good players coming back, great coaches and we were going to work really hard.
“But to jump up to number one overall is crazy to me. It’s a dream come true.”
Burrow, who left Ohio State as a graduate transfer after the 2017 season, is fresh off one of the best seasons in college football history as he led the country in passing yards (5,671), total offense (6,039 yards) and completion percentage (76.3), and set an NCAA record with 60 touchdown passes in 15 starts.
The Bengals will look to Burrow to help turn around a franchise that has not made the NFL playoffs since the 2015 season and is coming off a league-worst 2-14 campaign.
Ohio State defensive end Chase Young, widely considered the best overall athlete in the draft, was selected second by the Washington Redskins, and speedy cornerback Jeff Okudah, also from Ohio State, was taken third by the Detroit Lions.
The New York Giants used their fourth pick to shore up their offensive line with Georgia tackle Andrew Thomas, which registered as a mild surprise given the large number of talented linemen available in this year’s draft class.
QBs TAGOVAILOA AND HERBERT GO BACK-TO-BACK
Even though the event was moved from Las Vegas to hundreds of homes around the country, the biggest wild card going into the evening, Alabama’s supremely talented but often injured quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, dressed up for his big moment.
The amiable 22-year-old wore a three-piece suit and celebrated with his family from his couch in Hawaii when he learned he would be joining the Miami Dolphins next season.
“It has been a journey, a tough one, going through a lot of adversity but it’s really good,” he said. “I know where I’m going to be now. I’m really excited.”
Miami, which had three first-round picks, also added USC offensive tackle Austin Jackson and Auburn cornerback Noah Igbinoghene.
The Los Angeles Chargers, who will be looking to sell out home games when they move into a new, multi-billion dollar stadium next season, handed the reins of their franchise to Oregon quarterback and Rose Bowl champion Justin Herbert.
The draft marked just the third time since the common draft era started in 1967 that three quarterbacks were taken in the first six picks, with the most recent year being 1999, according to ESPN.
The highly anticipated, first-of-its kind virtual draft had players, general managers and coaches all participating from their homes because of physical distancing measures designed to slow the spread of the virus.
“Like millions of fans, team personnel and prospects, I join you from my home for the first virtual NFL Draft,” commissioner Roger Goodell said at the start of the program, which was broadcast on ABC, ESPN and the NFL Network.
“This is different for us and it’s different for you because it has to be,” he said, before praising first responders and holding a moment of silence for those who have succumbed to the virus, which has killed more than 49,000 people in the United States.
The introduction also included remarks from National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci, who applauded the NFL.
In a moment of levity, Goodell poked fun at himself by having fans boo him, as is a tradition at the start of every draft, through a screen set up in his home in Bronxville, New York.
Before the draft, Goodell told the NFL Network he believed the 2020 season, which is scheduled to kick off on Sept. 10, would begin on time.
He also announced that Las Vegas, which will have its first NFL team this season when the Raiders move there from Oakland, will host the 2022 draft.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles and Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Ed Osmond, Gerry Doyle and Richard Pullin)