CHICAGO — With the first two picks all but assured in the days leading up to the NFL Draft, there were no surprises when quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz went 1-2 Thursday night, but the intrigue starting with the third pick set up a wildly unpredictable rest of the first round.
Perhaps the biggest — and most bizarre — surprise surrounded Mississippi tackle Laremy Tunsil, who only weeks ago was projected as the No. 1 overall pick but slid to the Dolphins at No. 13 after a series of off-field issues bombarded him in the days — and even minutes — leading up to the draft.
UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, once considered the top prospect at his position and a can’t-miss top-10 selection, fell completely out of the first round because of concerns about a knee condition that could require surgery in the future.
Tunsil’s nightmarish scenario included a video posted to his verified Twitter account just before the start of the draft showed a person smoking from a mask that was equipped with a bong. The account was quickly de-activated, but Tunsil indicated on NFL Network after being drafted that it was him in the video.
“It was a mistake. It happened years ago. Somebody hacked my Twitter account,” Tunsil said.
There was more. Tunsil’s Instagram account was hacked later in the night, and the implications of what was included in a series of texts could have far-ranging effects on the Mississippi program. The screenshots of alleged text messages between Tunsil and John Miller, the assistant athletic director for football operations, showed Tunsil asking for money to pay rent and for his mother’s electric and water bills.
“I made a mistake,” Tunsil told reporters at the draft. “That happened.” Asked if that meant he had taken money from someone on the Mississippi staff, he replied, “I’d have to say yeah.”
Tunsil was escorted out of the media area after he was asked if he had spoken to NCAA officials about the payment, which likely violates NCAA rules. The organization that oversees college athletics could decide to launch a probe into the Mississippi program as a result.
Tunsil’s college coach, Hugh Freeze, said Tunsil was involved in some “unfortunate” events but told ESPN, “First of all, I believe in him. That doesn’t mean mistakes have not happened. I assure you, that’s not who he is.”
Tunsil was considered the best overall prospect before the draft, and the Titans were widely expected to make him the No. 1 overall pick to help block for 2015 first-round quarterback Marcus Mariota. But two weeks ago, they traded out of the top spot with the Rams, who moved up from 15 to take Goff. The Browns traded the No. 2 pick to the Eagles, who were smitten with Wentz as soon as they got a look at him in the Senior Bowl and at the Scouting Combine.
The Chargers considered Tunsil at No. 3 but instead went with Ohio State pass rusher Joey Bosa, who had no idea he would go that high. “I was surprised,” he said. He thought the highest he would go was No. 4 to the Cowboys. But without the chance to draft Bosa, the Cowboys went with Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott, hoping he can turn into the second coming of Emmitt Smith.
“I’m going to do my best to live up to the reputation of that running back room,” said Elliott, who showed up to the draft in a powder blue suit with a “crop-top” shirt showing his midriff. By the time he was drafted, he had changed to a more conventional shirt, but he was thrilled to be joining the Cowboys. “I think it was the best fit for me,” he said.
The Ravens, at No. 6, were in the market for a tackle, but with Tunsil still on the board, they instead went with Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley. Newsome said he had Stanley rated higher than Tunsil, making the decision easy.
The 49ers, at No. 7, also were mentioned as a team considering a tackle, but Tunsil was overlooked again as the Niners went with Oregon defensive tackle DeForest Buckner.
The Bears and Giants also were thinking tackle, but they went defense instead, with the Bears taking Georgia’s Leonard Floyd after trading ahead of the Giants to No. 9. After the Giants took Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple, Tunsil finally went to the Dolphins at No. 13.
The other major surprise of the first round was the dramatic fall by Jack, who has a knee condition that could require microfracture surgery someday. Many players who have undergone that procedure have been forced into retirement, although it has helped other players.
Jack said he found out about the condition after he underwent surgery last year to repair the meniscus in his right knee. Teams clearly were scared off by the medical condition, leaving Jack to wonder when he’d be drafted.
The Broncos added intrigue to the bottom of the round by trading up from the 31st spot with the Seahawks at No. 26 to take Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch, the eventual successor to the recently retired Peyton Manning. The Broncos had previously expressed interest in trading for 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, but negotiations bogged down in recent weeks, leaving the Broncos to settle on Lynch. They also had signed Eagles free agent Mark Sanchez.
Tunsil’s Mississippi teammates, defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, slid into the bottom of the first round when the Cardinals took him at No. 29. Nkemdiche dropped because of character concerns stemming from an arrest in December, when he fell out of a hotel window at a party. He was charged with marijuana possession and suspended for the Sugar Bowl.