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Njoku goes 29th to Browns, becomes fifth Miami tight end drafted in first round

By MANNY NAVARRO • Apr 27, 2017 at 11:44 PM

When Al Golden recruited David Njoku to the University of Miami in 2014 the Cedar Grove, N.J., native was known more for his world-class high jumping skills and freakish athletic gifts than his hands.

Miami's former head coach was so confused as to what to do with Njoku he moved him from receiver over to linebacker a little more than a week into fall practice in August 2014.

"David is kind of a hybrid for us," Golden said 14 months before he was fired. "He's 230 pounds. So is he a Big X because he runs well and has explosiveness? Is he an H-back? Or is he a SAM (linebacker)?"

Njoku, who only spent a week at linebacker before he was shifted back to receiver, answered that question rather loudly Thursday night when he became the youngest tight end in NFL history ever taken in the first round of the draft.

The Cleveland Browns used the 29th pick to draft the 20-year-old redshirt sophomore, who decided to leave Coral Gables after playing in only 26 games in two seasons. Njoku, who caught his first college touchdown pass two weeks after Golden was canned, became the 64th first-round pick in UM history, extending the program's new streak of first-rounders to three consecutive seasons.

He also joined Greg Olsen (31st overall, 2007), Kellen Winslow (6th overall, 2004), Jeremy Shockey (14th overall, 2002) and Bubba Franks (14th overall, 2000) as the fifth Hurricanes tight ends to be drafted in the first round. Only Notre Dame, which has had six tight ends taken in the first round, has produced more.

Njoku was the third tight end taken on Thursday. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took Alabama's O.J. Howard with the 19th pick and the New York Giants drafted Mississippi's Evan Engram with the 23rd pick. It's the first time since 2002 three tight ends have been drafted in the first round.

Although he's still considered very raw at the position because he only made nine starts in his college career (64 catches for 1,060 yards and nine touchdowns), scouts have long drooled over Njoku's athleticism and potential (he's 6-4, 246 pounds with 4.64 speed in the 40-yard dash). At a position that's become much more about those qualities in the last 10 to 15 years, it made Njoku quite coveted.

"He has the size and athleticism (37{-inch vertical and 11-foot-1 broad jump at the combine) to run past and jump over defenders," ESPN's Mel Kiper said of Njoku back in February. "He could be an All-Pro."

Drafting UM tight ends usually ends up being a wise decision. Five former UM tight ends have been named to at least one Pro Bowl — each of the four previous first round picks and former Hurricanes basketball standout Jimmy Graham, who is tied with Shockey for the most Pro Bowl selections by a former UM tight end with four.

Njoku recently told USA Today that for the better part of the past year he's spent hours watching film of Shockey, Olsen, Graham, Winslow and Clive Walford (a 2015 third round pick from UM with 10 career starts for the Oakland Raiders) and then tape from his own one-on-one battles in practice. He said he put his clips in slow motion and analyzed every aspect of his hand placement, route running, catching and footwork. Then, Njoku said, he would go home and meditate.

"He is still growing into his body and has to add to his play strength," draft analyst Lance Zierlein wrote of Njoku in his NFL.com draft bio. "But his playmaking potential and elite traits should make him a first-round pick and a future Pro Bowler."

Njoku grew up in a Nigerian household with nine children. His younger brother, Evidence, signed with UM in February and is a three-star wide receiver. His eldest brother, Innocent, is a neurosurgeon in upstate New York according to Bleacher Report. He has a sister who is a nurse, another who is in medical school and a third who has a mechanical engineering degree.

Before the Hurricanes figured out they needed to move him to tight end and get the ball in his hands, Njoku was a national champion high jumper in high school. Although he dropped eight balls over two seasons at UM according to Zierlein, he also had catches of 76, 54, 48, 46, 33, and 30 yards and averaged 16.2 yards per reception in 2016. That type of explosion excited NFL scouts and brought Njoku plenty of interest.

Before the draft, he worked out privately for the Titans, Buccaneers, Saints, Broncos, Dolphins, Steelers and Panthers.

"I can do it all," Njoku told USA Today. "I can line up on the line of scrimmage attached, or go outside and make it happen at receiver. It hasn't really stopped me or made me think twice of making this step and coming out. I've only played tight end for about two years. I'm new to the position, but I think I'm improving very fast. I think I can only get better from here on out."


(c)2017 Miami Herald

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• • •

Three quarterbacks taken in first 12 picks of NFL draft

By Marc Narducci

The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)

PHILADELPHIA — Three quarterbacks went in the first 12 selections, with all three coming via trades.

After the Cleveland Browns selected Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett first overall as expected, the Chicago Bears pulled the evening’s first stunner.

The Bears, who were slated to pick No. 3, traded a significant amount to the San Francisco 49ers to move up one spot and then selected quarterback Mitch Trubisky of North Carolina.

Trubisky’s biggest knock was his inexperience. Remember last year when the Eagles selected Carson Wentz second and there was concern that he only had 23 career starts? Trubisky started just 13 games, all last season as a junior, and had an 8-5 record.

“I didn’t see that coming at all. It was a mystery the last couple of weeks,” Trubisky said. “I am just happy to be a Chicago Bear.”

To move up one spot, the Bears traded their third-round pick (67 overall) and a fourth-rounder (111 overall) this season and their third-round selection in 2018.

For new 49ers general manager John Lynch, it was quite a first trade in his tenure. The 49ers selected defensive lineman Solomon Thomas of Stanford, a player they likely were targeting at No. 2 anyway.

The 6-foot-3, 273-pound Thomas has the ability to play tackle or end. “I can play outside or inside and be versatile and move around,” Thomas said.

The next stunner came at No. 10 when Buffalo traded its pick to Kansas City. The Chiefs dealt their first pick (No. 27) and third-round pick (No. 91) this year and their first-round selection next season. The Chiefs used the No. 10 pick to select Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes II.

After New Orleans selected the top cornerback in the draft, Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore, at No. 11, quarterback-needy Houston got into the mix, trading up with Cleveland for the 12th overall pick and selecting quarterback DeShaun Watson of national champion Clemson.

Houston sent Cleveland its first-round pick this year (No. 25) and its first-round pick next season.

“Coach said come in here, put my head down, don’t say anything and go to work,” Watson said. “We are going to make it happen.”

The other top 10 picks were LSU running back Leonard Fournette No. 4 to Jacksonville, followed by Western Michigan receiver Corey Davis to Tennessee; LSU safety Jamal Adams to the New York Jets, Clemson receiver Mike Williams to San Diego, Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey to Carolina and Washington receiver John Ross No. 9 to Cincinnati.


©2017 The Philadelphia Inquirer

Visit The Philadelphia Inquirer at www.philly.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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