NEW YORK – Welcome to the Silver and Black, Khalil Mack.
And welcome to the Red, White and Blue, Sammy Watkins.
The University at Buffalo linebacker and Clemson wide receiver found new homes Thursday night during the first round of the NFL draft at Radio City Music Hall, with Mack being selected fifth overall by the Oakland Raiders – one pick after the Buffalo Bills pulled off a huge trade to move up and draft Watkins, the consensus top-rated wide receiver in the class.
To secure Watkins the Bills paid a steep price – giving up their original ninth overall selection to the Cleveland Browns, along with their first- and fourth-round selections in the 2015 draft.
Mack’s selection was less of a surprise. The Raiders’ interest in him was apparent at UB’s Pro Day in March, which General Manager Reggie Mc-Kenzie made a point to attend personally.
The only question was whether Mack would be there. Rumors swirled in recent days that he might be the first overall selection to the Houston Texans, but that honor went to South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney instead.
Mack, though, becomes the highest-drafted player ever from UB.
Earlier in the day, Bulls coach Jeff Quinn talked about how special the night would be.
“It’s an exhilarating experience. Khalil is very deserving of it,” Quinn said. “He’s a special young man and certainly very deserving of this opportunity. He’s put a lot of time, energy and effort into it. His work ethic is second to none. You could just see it coming along, year in and year out, day in and day out. It’s a tremendous opportunity for him. For him, his parents, and the entire ‘UB Nation.’ … He’s where he’s at because of the energy and effort he’s put into it.”
Dressed in a sharp blue suit reminiscent of the Bulls’ color, Mack took the stage to “Happy” by Pharrell Williams – a song well-suited to a player who rarely has anything but a smile on his face. While highlights of his season rolled on the giant TV screens in Radio City, fans cheered the selection as Mack shared a long hug with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“It’s a blessing when you really think about it. This is a dream come true,” Quinn said. “Think about all those years when you’re growing up and you’re watching the NFL draft, and you’re out there watching all these great players play and having an opportunity to play at the next level, what a tremendous opportunity for him and our program.”
Watkins, meanwhile, also had his dream come true – he was a Bills fan growing up. He was introduced to the song “Look What You’ve Done,” by Drake, a fitting title considering the bold move the Bills made to acquire him.
General Manager Doug Whaley made it clear heading into the draft that acquiring help for quarterback EJ Manuel was the team’s main priority – and followed through on that goal.
Watkins, 6-foot-1 and 211 pounds, ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. He recorded 240 catches for 3,391 yards and 27 touchdowns for Clemson in three years. As a true freshman in 2011, he was named a first-team All-American, just the fourth time that’s ever happened (joining Herschel Walker in 1980, Marshall Faulk in 1991 and Adrian Peterson in 2004).