It’s not a record, but the six players selected in Thursday’s first round of the 2018 NFL Draft is the most from California high schools since 1997. Five of the six also went in the first 15 picks, which also caused a look into the draft history books. The only downer was that none of the three quarterbacks who at various times leading into the draft were viewed as possibilities for the No. 1 overall pick heard their name called first.
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This year’s first round of the NFL Draft, held in Dallas at AT&T Stadium, began on FOX TV with an homage to the greatness and passion of Texas high school football. To be accurate to the event itself, however, perhaps a nod to California also was in order.
California high schools don’t often produce the most players in the first round of the draft, but for 2018 it was a rush of Golden State grads with five of the first 15 and six in all. Texas had one in the top 10 and two in all.
That one for Texas in the top 10, though, was a biggie as quarterback Baker Mayfield (an Austin native) leaped to the top of the charts and was the No. 1 overall pick by the Cleveland Browns. The three California quarterbacks, who were projected at various times to be 1-2 or even three in the top five, ended up at 3-7-10. Still, with three others all going higher than expected, the California players finished 3-7-10-12-15 and 27.
For the last time there were five players among the first 15 in the draft from California, you have to go all the way back to 1971. That one featured James Lick of San Jose’s Jim Plunkett as the No. 1 overall choice. The Stanford quarterback was followed just two slots later at No. 3 by San Jose Bellarmine’s Dan Pastorini, another quarterback, and then right after that it was wide receiver J.D. Hill from Edison of Stockton at No. 4. The other two at 12th and 13th were offensive lineman Marv Montgomery (Sylmar) and running back Leon Burns (Berkeley St. Mary’s).
The last time there were at least six players taken in the first round from the state was in 1997. That draft had the late Darrell Russell of San Diego St. Augustine at No. 2. It also included tight end Tony Gonzalez of Huntington Beach at No. 13.
The most players in any one round of the draft was in 1968 with nine. That draft also saw California players taken at No. 1-7-9-10-12-13-14-16 and 27. Amazingly, that would be seven of the first 15 and eight of the first 16. Eventual Hall of Famer Ron Yary of Bellflower was the first pick. Other than him, the best player of the group probably was the 27th, wide receiver Earl McCullouch of Long Beach Poly.
If two of the quarterbacks had gone No. 1 and No. 2, that wouldn’t have the first time for California, either. The only time that has still happened was in 1969 with running back O.J. Simpson (San Francisco Galileo) and offensive lineman George Kunz (Los Angeles Loyola).
Here is a look at the six players who were selected in Friday’s first round:
No. 3 Sam Darnold (San Clemente) New York Jets
After blowing up as a D1 college recruit during the summer prior to his senior season at San Clemente, Darnold had an impressive 2014 campaign. He led the Tritons to the CIF Southern Section Southwest Division game but they lost 44-37. Despite that, he was the Orange County Register Offensive Player of the Year with more than 3,000 yards passing and 39 TDs plus 13 rushing touchdowns. That might be first team all-state type numbers in many seasons, but 2014 we also had Jake Browning with 5,700 yards and 91 TDs plus Josh Rosen at St. John Bosco. As a result, Darnold was the quarterback for second team all-state. He went to USC after that where the highlight was throwing for 453 yards and five TDs in a Rose Bowl win over Penn State. Sam was forecast to be the first pick overall by many analysts at various points in the lead-up for the draft. He will now go to the Jets, who once picked Mission Viejo’s Mark Sanchez at No. 5 in the first round. Sanchez was still in the league last season and early in his career helped the Jets get to the AFC title game.
No. 7 Josh Allen (Firebaugh) Buffalo Bills
If you don’t know the story of Allen, it’s up there with Aaron Rodgers of Chico Pleasant Valley as a relative unknown in high school going on to play in the NFL. Allen, of course, may never reach the Mt. Rushmore level of Rodgers, but he is similar in that he went the JC route to gain D1 college interest after not signing out of high school. Allen’s journey took him to Laramie, Wyoming after JC where he continued to add strength, size and skill. He’s now a 6-foot-5, 233-pounder who is drawing comparisons to the Philadelphia Eagles’ Carson Wentz. Allen recently attended basketball games at Firebaugh, especially the girls since his younger sister, Makenna, is on that team.
No. 10 Josh Rosen (St. John Bosco, Bellflower) Arizona Cardinals
The 2013 State Junior of the Year who quarterbacked the Braves to the CIF Open Division state title and 16-0 record hopes to become the replacement at some point next season for the retired Carson Palmer as the Cardinals’ starting quarterback. Since Palmer is from Santa Margarita (Rancho SM), it would be one Trinity Leaguer replacing another. Rosen also was a three-year standout at Bosco and was a finalist for the Mr. Football State Player of the Year in 2014, although that pick pretty much had to be Folsom’s Jake Browning with his 91 touchdown passes and more. Rosen has displayed top overall pick skills during his career at UCLA, but also had some setbacks with injuries. If there’s one player who has set the tone for the phenomenal success of the Bosco program since 2012, it’s him.
No. 12 Vita Vea (Milpitas) Tampa Bay Bucs
If you’ve followed Bay Area prep football in recent years, you know that Milpitas is known for having some rather large linemen. Some of the Trojans’ offensive lines have averaged well over 300 pounds per player. Vea was one of their biggest ones and now stands 6-5 and 347 pounds. He was different than other Milpitas behemoths, however, in that he could play running back and was even considering quarterback as a freshman. We had Vea on our all-state sophomore team as a defensive lineman and as a senior he was first team all-state. He was playing as a redshirt freshman at the University of Washington in 2015.
No. 15 Kolton Miller (Roseville) Oakland Raiders
The Raiders selected a Sacramento area native last year with Eddie Vanderdoes (Auburn Placer) and went for another Sacramento guy and another UCLA guy in Miller. The 6-foot-9, 310-pound Miller had a strong combine workout that helped his stock and is regarded as a possible anchor as a left side tackle protector for Raiders’ QB Derek Carr. We saw Miller play for one half of his first game as a senior against Cosumnes Oaks of Elk Grove. He had a great frame and moved well.
No. 27 Rashaad Penny (Norwalk) Seattle Seahawks
As a prep running back at Norwalk, we had Penny as a first-team all-state running back even though there were others more highly ranked as college prospects. He rushed for more than 2,500 yards and 41 TDs for a team that went 13-1 and lost in an overtime thriller to La Serna of Whittier in the CIFSS Southeast Division final. Last year at San Diego State, Rashaad led Division I FBS in rushing with more than 2,000 yards.