North Carolina schools had their best showing in the NFL Draft in more than a quarter century.
A total of 15 players from schools in the state heard their names called in last week’s draft, the most since a state record 23 were taken in 1992. It’s just the eighth time in NFL Draft history that 15 North Carolinians were selected.
NC State led the way with a school-record seven players selected. The Wolfpack’s previous best was six draftees, in 2006. It ties for the third-highest number of draft picks for a North Carolina school in a single year.
The Pack’s big draft day started early, as defensive end Bradley Chubb was selected fifth overall by the Denver Broncos.
The pick was a bit of a surprise to Chubb, who had only met with Denver once in the draft preparation process.
“I had the phone on the table. I didn’t even have to look at it, and I saw a Denver number pop up, and I was like, ‘This is it,’” Chubb said. “It was just a great moment with all of my family as I was on the phone. It was a great moment, and a lot of emotions came out. Mom and Dad started crying and I tried to hold it together.”
Chubb will pair with veteran Von Miller to give the Broncos a fearsome pass rush.
“We just felt that where we were and with Bradley staring at us, we couldn’t pass him up,” Denver GM John Elway said. “He can rush the pass as well as what he can do defensively. He’s a great fit. He’s a hard worker, and he plays 120 percent all the time. He’s a great addition to the Broncos.”
No other in-state players heard their names called during Thursday’s opening round, although two players with ties to North Carolina were chosen.
Charlotte native Jaire Alexander, a playmaking cornerback and return man for Louisville, was taken by the Green Bay Packers with the 18th overall pick.
“Jaire is a guy that we’ve targeted all along,” Packers’ scouting director Jon-Eric Sullivan said. “We’ve liked him really from the outset. The guy’s a really good football player.”
New Bern’s Mike Hughes, who started his college career at UNC, was drafted 30th overall by the Minnesota Vikings. The cornerback finished his college career at Central Florida.
“He was the highest player rated on our board,” GM Rick Spielman said. “As Coach (Mike) Zimmer says, we can never have enough corners around here, and he fits all of the traits we look for at the position.”
The other schools in the state got involved on Day Two of the draft, which consisted of rounds two and three.
In the second round, Tampa Bay took UNC cornerback M.J. Stewart with the 53rd pick, and Cincinnati took Wake Forest safety Jessie Bates with the very next selection.
“I got a little nervous after it got past the 50th pick,” Bates said. “I got really nervous. I don’t know why, but I just started questioning some things. I feel very confident now.”
Fayetteville’s Harold Landry also went in the second round, after starring at defensive end with Boston College. The Tennessee Titans took Landry with the 41st pick.
“I’m not going to let them down,” Landry said of his new team. “I’m going to show up, go to work and do what I’ve got to do my rookie year to help get this team, as much as I can, to a Super Bowl.”
NC A&T tackle Brandon Parker went to the Oakland Raiders with the first pick of round three, the 65th pick overall. A&T is one of four schools in the state, along with State, UNC and Wake, to have players drafted each of the last two years.
Chubb’s Wolfpack defensive linemates B.J. Hill and Justin Jones were also taken in the third round. Hill went to the Giants at No. 69, and Jones was selected by the Chargers with the 84th pick.
Hill and Jones began a run on NC State players, as they were the first of a half dozen Wolfpack players taken before any other in-state products were selected.
In the fourth round, running back and return man Nyheim Hines went to the Colts with the 104th pick. End Kentavius Street, the fourth member of the Wolfpack defensive line, was taken by San Francisco at No. 128. Offensive tackle Will Richardson went to the Jaguars on the next pick.
In the fifth round, running back/tight end Jaylen Samuels was taken by the Steelers at 165.
Former Wolfpack wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who transferred to South Florida, capped the NC State portion of the draft, going to Green Bay at 174, the final pick of the fifth round.
Wake defensive end Duke Ejiofor was taken by the Texans in the sixth round, at 177. It’s the first time Wake has had multiple players drafted since four Deacs were taken in 2012.
Wide receiver Braxton Berrios, who played at Raleigh’s Leesville Road High, was drafted by the Patriots at pick 210 overall.
App State had its second player drafted in the last three years when offensive tackle Colby Gossett was selected by the Vikings at pick 213.
Linebacker Andre Smith, who entered the draft after his junior year at UNC, will remain in state after getting selected by the Carolina Panthers in the seventh round, at pick 234.
Western Carolina returned to the draft after a 24-year absence when cornerback Keion Crossen was selected by the Patriots at pick 243. Crossen was the first Catamount drafted since tight end Andrew Jordan was taken by the Patriots in the sixth round of the 1994 draft.
UNC receiver Austin Proehl just missed immortality. The Buffalo Bills took Proehl with the second-to-last pick in the draft. The final NFL draft pick is honored with a parade and the title Mr. Irrelevant.