USC's Caleb Williams, UCLA's Laiatu Latu are top pick and top defender taken in draft

Southern California quarterback Caleb Williams celebrates after being chosen by the Chicago Bears with the first overall pick during the first round of the NFL football draft, Thursday, April 25, 2024, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

First offensive player selected in the NFL draft: USC.

First defensive player: UCLA.


But how could we have guessed there would be so many picks between Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams going No. 1 to Chicago and Bruins edge rusher Laiatu Latu going 15th to Indianapolis?

Williams, the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner, has clear goals in the coming weeks and months: “Learn all my teammates’ names, their families, learn the playbook and get ready to go win games.”

Chicago had the opening selection for the first time since 1947, and followed that by picking Washington receiver Rome Odunze at No. 9.

Read more: Drafted by Bears 25 years ago, another QB from L.A. shares advice for Caleb Williams

It was a bizarre first round Thursday night, with half of the first 12 selections being quarterbacks, tying the opening-round record of that historic 1983 draft that included future Hall of Famers John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino.

Even the Atlanta Falcons used their first pick on a quarterback, Washington’s Michael Penix, a head-scratcher of a decision seeing as that club signed Kirk Cousins to a four-year, $180-million deal last month.

UCLA 's Laiatu Latu poses with fans after being chosen by the Indianapolis Colts with the 15th pick of the draft.

In order, the quarterbacks chosen Thursday were Williams, Louisiana State's Jayden Daniels (second, to Washington), North Carolina’s Drake Maye (third, to New England), Penix at eight, Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy (10th, to Minnesota), and Oregon’s Bo Nix (12th, to Denver).

Las Vegas, drafting at 13, was likewise looking for a quarterback but the first two waves of them were gone. The Raiders wound up taking Georgia’s Brock Bowers, in keeping with that club’s storied history of outstanding tight ends.

The Falcons threw the biggest curveball of the night in taking a quarterback, even though they’re desperately in need of pass-rushing help. In fairness, Cousins is coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon, but Penix has medical issues too, having overcome two torn ACLs and a slew of shoulder injuries.

McCarthy is the first Michigan quarterback taken in the opening round since Jim Harbaugh in 1987. Harbaugh is now coach of the Chargers, who might have taken a receiver with the fifth pick but chose a more meat-and-potatoes option and selected Notre Dame offensive tackle Joe Alt.

Read more: Rams' top pick, Florida State's Jared Verse, got pre-draft advice from Aaron Donald

The Rams, drafting in the first round for the first time since trading up to No. 1 for quarterback Jared Goff in 2016, used the 19th pick on Florida State edge rusher Jared Verse.

Nearly half the first round went by without a defensive player getting a call. Finally, the Colts took Latu, who began his college career at Washington before finishing so strong at UCLA. He had 23½ sacks in two seasons for the Bruins and overcame a serious neck injury to do so.

It’s fitting that one of Latu’s inspirations in recovering from his neck issues was quarterback Peyton Manning, who won a Super Bowl after undergoing four neck procedures. Now, Latu will be playing in Indianapolis, where Manning spent a good chunk of his Hall of Fame career.

In his on-stage interview, Latu said hearing his name called was an “out-of-body experience” that left his knees shaking. But he’s ready to contribute.

“My versatility speaks for itself,” he said. “I can play in the run game. My pass rush is so big, and I’ve got versatility in coverage as well. So I’m going to be available and durable.”

Read more: Chargers say they drafted 'a weapon' in huge Notre Dame offensive tackle Joe Alt

There were eight offensive linemen selected, including Penn State tackle Olu Fashanu, who went 11th to the New York Jets. They will lean on him to protect the blindside of 40-year-old quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Fashanu was a high school teammate of USC’s Williams.

One of Manning’s all-time favorite targets was receiver Marvin Harrison, whose son — Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr. — was drafted fourth by Arizona. Thursday marked the first time in the modern era that a receiving duo of father and son both went in the first round.

It was a quiet night for cornerbacks. The first to come off the board was Toledo’s Quinyon Mitchell, selected 22nd by Philadelphia. The Eagles hadn’t drafted a defensive back in the opening round since 2002.

The back-to-back Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs traded up from 32 to 28 in order to grab Texas receiver Xavier Worthy, who set a record in the 40-yard dash at the combine, covering that distance in a turf-melting 4.21 seconds.

He could be the next Tyreek Hill for the Chiefs, and it’s strange that Buffalo was willing to be trade partners, seeing as Kansas City has been the Bills’ nemesis in recent years.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.