After NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was booed by the crowd and spectators chanted about their desire for a return of football, the Panthers got the draft going by making their widely anticipated choice of Newton.
“I wouldn’t say I have more to prove to people,” Newton said. “I have more to prove to myself. It’s a lot of goals and aspirations that I have.”
Three more quarterbacks were taken in the top 12 picks of the draft. Washington’s Jake Locker went eighth to the Tennessee Titans. The Jacksonville Jaguars engineered a trade with the Washington Redskins to get Blaine Gabbert of Missouri 10th, two selections before the Minnesota Vikings chose Florida State’s Christian Ponder.
Defensive linemen also came off the board quickly, and the draft’s early stages contained only mild surprises. The Denver Broncos took Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller second, followed by the Buffalo Bills’ selection of Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus third overall. Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green went fourth to the Cincinnati Bengals, Louisiana State cornerback Patrick Peterson was taken fifth by the Arizona Cardinals and the Atlanta Falcons traded up to get Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones with the sixth choice originally owned by the Cleveland Browns.
The ongoing courtroom clash between the league and the players threatened to overshadow one of the sport’s showcase events. The players’ side held its own separate event for the draftees and their families at a nearby hotel hours before the draft started.
About 2 1/2 hours before the opening round began, Goodell stood inside a mostly empty Radio City Music Hall and said: “I spent two hours outside with the fans [Wednesday] night. They just want it out of the way. They want football. They want the draft and they’re excited about being here today. And they’re frustrated, just as I am. We’ve got to find a resolution to it.”
The night’s main storyline clearly was the unique feel that this draft had to it, coming in the middle of the sport’s tumultuous offseason and before teams have had a chance to sign any veteran free agent players to fill their needs.
Thursday night’s opening round came three days after Susan Richard Nelson, a St. Paul, Minn.-based federal judge, granted the players’ request for a preliminary injunction to end the lockout imposed by team owners March 12.
The draft began against the backdrop of the league pursuing a stay of Nelson’s injunction from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, and hours after the NFL announced tentative plans to resume some aspects of its operations Friday in an attempt to comply with Nelson’s injunction.