There was some drama during Thursday night’s first round of the 2012 NFL draft, as a flurry of trades shook up the draft order from the third pick on.
But when the picks settled, there were LSU’s Morris Claiborne and Michael Brockers, both beaming at being selected in the first half of the first round.
Claiborne, his draft status threatened by the unsubstantiated report of a substandard Wonderlic test, in the end went with the sixth overall pick to the Dallas Cowboys, who traded their 14th pick to the St. Louis Rams for the opportunity to get him at that spot.
The Rams used that 14th pick to select Brockers (6-foot-5, 322 pounds), a draft-eligible sophomore who was a full-time starter for just one season at LSU, but whose draft stock surged upward during the pre-draft evaluations.
“I think both guys are deserving, good people who work hard at their craft,” said LSU coach Les Miles, who accompanied his players to New York and is also serving as a guest analyst during the draft on the NFL Network. “Guys who have really been quality people and good students. What a wonderful thing it is for them to have an opportunity like this.”
It’s the first time that LSU has had multiple first-round picks since four Tigers were picked in 2007 and just the fifth time in school history.
Overall, the Tigers have had 35 first-round NFL picks, 12 since 2004.
LSU wide receiver Rueben Randle, who like Claiborne also left after his junior season, was also invited to New York but wasn’t selected Thursday. He’ll be expected to go in the second round when the draft resumes at 6 p.m. Friday with live coverage on ESPN and the NFL Network.
With the first two picks by the Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins locked up with quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, the draft’s real drama began with the third pick tagged for the Vikings.
There were some reports that the Claiborne had moved to the top of the Vikings’ draft board, but in the end the move Minnesota made was to trade down one pick in a deal with the Cleveland Browns.
The Browns drafted Alabama running back Trent Richardson, then the Vikings — as widely expected — took USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil. That left the Jacksonville Jaguars — who traded up to fifth in a deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — a pick they used to select Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon.
The Cowboys were shopping for a defensive back. Instead of trading down as has often been the case under highly involved owner Jerry Jones, Dallas moved up eight spots and grabbed Claiborne.
“Congratulations,” Jones told Claiborne in a phone call shortly before the pick was announced, “you’re the best defensive player in the draft.”
“I didn’t see it coming in a million years,” said Claiborne, who said he had no pre-draft contact with the club. “I had no idea.”
When the call came, Claiborne said he looked back at his family members with him at Radio City Music Hall.
“They said, ‘Who is it?’ ” Claiborne recalled. “I said, ‘The Cowboys.’ To see the look on their faces just melted me, because they all grew up Cowboys fans.”
So did Claiborne, whose hometown of Shreveport is three hours east of Dallas.
“I had no choice but to root for them,” he said.
Claiborne (5-11, 188) is expected to be an immediate major contributor in Dallas, though the Cowboys just signed free agent Brandon Carr away from the Kansas City Chiefs in March.
“I’m so excited to get you here,” Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan told Claiborne. “It’s going to be fantastic. I know you’ve been in (Cowboys) stadium before. This place is going to be home (for you).”
Claiborne becomes the second straight LSU player to be the top defensive back taken in the NFL draft, following Patrick Peterson who went fifth overall last year to the Arizona Cardinals.
He and Claiborne make LSU the first school since 1960 to have the first defensive backs selected in back-to-back drafts.
“I tell you what,” Griffin told ESPN Radio, “I’m not looking forward to having to play Mo Claiborne twice a year (in the NFC East).”
Brockers started all 14 games for LSU last season, piling up 54 tackles including 10 for loss and two sacks.
“It’s remarkable. It’s my dream come true.” Brockers said according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I was at a loss for words when they drafted me. I was really calm. I’m just ready to get back to football.”
“He’s explosive,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said according to the paper. “He’s very instinctive. For not having played, he can play across the face of blocks. He plays with effort. He pushes the pocket.
“There’s so much ahead of him. He’s going to develop into a fine player. He’s a fine young man. He’s the complete package. He’s what you want in a defensive tackle.”
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