PHILADELPHIA — For more definitive proof that NFL teams will go to just about any lengths to draft a franchise-caliber quarterback — even if he may not project as a big-time player — look at what happened Thursday night.
Scouts had a widely disparate view of this year’s top passers, but the general managers desperate for help in a quarterback-driven league made it clear they will take their chances anyway.
In a draft in which defensive players collectively were considered by far the better prospects, three quarterbacks were taken by the 12th overall pick. Not only that, but all three teams traded up to get them.
North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky went second overall to the Bears, who moved up one spot with the 49ers. Texas Tech’s strong-armed Patrick Mahomes went 10th overall to the Chiefs after they moved up from No. 27, and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, coming off a national championship win over Alabama, went to the Texans after they traded up from 25th to 12th.
The one team that didn’t draft a quarterback early was the one team that was expected to get one. The Browns, who were rumored to be interested in Trubisky with the first overall pick, instead took pass rusher Myles Garrett of Texas A & M.
The Browns had made extensive calls about trading up from the 12th pick, but with Watson still on the board, it was obvious they didn’t have the kind of conviction about him that they had with Trubisky.
But the Bears never let the Browns see Trubisky. They surrendered third- and fourth- round picks this year and a third-rounder next year to come away with the consensus top quarterback in the draft.
“I’m looking forward to wearing that Bears jersey,” said Trubisky, who grew up in the Cleveland suburb of Mentor, Ohio. “My favorite player was Walter Payton. I’m going to a great situation. I just have to learn the offense as quickly as possible to help the Bears win. I know they believe in me. I’m going to go there and try and get some wins.”
Trubisky and Mahomes go to teams that already have veteran starters in place at quarterback. The Bears signed Buccaneers free agent Mike Glennon to a three-year deal last month, and Alex Smith is the incumbent for the Chiefs.
Watson likely will see playing time much sooner with a Texans team desperate for help at quarterback. A year after signing Broncos free agent Brock Osweiler to a four-year, $72-million deal, the Texans traded Osweiler to the Browns.
Watson becomes the presumptive starter, and could be the No. 1 quarterback on Day 1.
“I was telling myself not to cry, but I couldn’t hold it back,” said Watson, who wept after he heard his name called by commissioner Roger Goodell.
While the quarterbacks took center stage early, other offensive players went high, too. Two running backs went in the top 10 — bruising LSU tailback Leonard Fournette to the Jaguars at No. 4 and versatile Stanford back Christian McCaffrey at No. 8 to the Panthers.
The Titans, who were rumored to be interested in moving back from the fifth overall pick, instead stayed put and took Western Michigan receiver Corey Davis, giving quarterback Marcus Mariota a prime target. The Bengals started rebuilding their own receiving corps by drafting John Ross out of Washington at No. 9. Ross set a record for the 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine, blazing to a 4.22.
The long-awaited run on defensive players started at No. 13, when the Cardinals, also in the market for a quarterback, instead took Temple linebacker Haason Reddick. The Eagles picked pass rusher Derek Barnett, safety Malik Hooker went to the Colts, cornerback Marlon Humphrey to the Ravens, defensive tackle Johnathan Allen to the Redskins and cornerback Adoree’ Jackson to the Titans.
Former Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley, who has been accused of raping a woman at a Cleveland hotel earlier this month, was taken by the Raiders with the 24th overall pick. Conley has denied the accusations, and said in a statement Wednesday, “The things being said about me and what happened that night are not true and don’t fit my character at all. I realize that I put myself in the situation and I could have used better judgment. However, I have worked tirelessly to put myself in position to have the honor of being an NFL draft pick and these untrue allegations are putting a huge cloud over my name and the NFL Draft.”
Former Michigan linebacker Jabrill Peppers, who tested positive at the NFL Combine after a urine sample was found to be diluted, went to the Browns at No. 25. Miami tight end David Njoku, who was mentioned as a possibility with the Giants at 23, went instead to the Browns, who traded into the 29th spot. The Steelers and 49ers completed the first-round run of defensive players, with Pittsburgh taking Wisconsin outside linebacker T.J. Watt, the younger brother of Texans star defensive end J.J. Watt, at No. 30 overall and the 49ers taking Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster at 31. The Saints finished off the first round by taking Wisconsin tackle Ryan Ramczyk.