Jameis Winston isn’t here. Marcus Mariota isn’t here. Amari Cooper isn’t here.
Oregon defensive lineman Arik Armstead backed out, rescinding his acceptance after not being guaranteed of being a first-round choice.
LSU offensive lineman La’el Collins made a brief appearance Wednesday before leaving to return to Louisiana in an attempt to clear his name in the shooting of his former girlfriend.
Thus, the 80th NFL Draft might turn out to be more about who’s not here.
With Winston and Mariota projected as the top-two choices, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s first ceremonial hug might have to wait a while. Winston said he wanted to stay home with his paternal grandmother, who can’t travel because of her type-2 diabetes. Mariota chose to celebrate with 200 friends and family in his home state of Hawaii.
It will be different, marking the first time in more than 20 years that the first choice doesn’t walk across the stage. In 1994, Ohio State defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson watched at home when the Cincinnati Bengals made him the top choice.
“No quarterbacks here,” Kentucky defensive end Bud Dupree said, shaking his head. “That’s crazy.”
Goodell disputed that the absences of several top players had anything to do with the draft being held outside New York for the first time since 1964. A scheduling issue with Radio City Music Hall, which hosted the draft the past nine years, prompted the move to Chicago.
“That’s something that happens every year,” Goodell said. “We have players that decide to stay with their families. We understand that. It’s an important day for them. We encourage them to do what they think is best.”
The NFL, which pays for two first-class or four coach tickets for each prospect as well as two hotel rooms, convinced 27 prospects to attend the draft. (Collins was the 27th.)
Gil Brandt, the Cowboys’ former player personnel director, recruits prospects for the league. He was turned down more this year than at anytime since the NFL moved the draft to prime time in 2010.
“I’ll say this: The 27 guys we’ve got here want to be here, and that’s the whole thing,” Brandt said. “You’re always disappointed, because somebody will poke fun at us for not having a guy here. But you can’t win them all.”
USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams, Florida defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., Georgia running back Todd Gurley, West Virginia receiver Kevin White and Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley rank as the biggest names in attendance this year.
“Some people would rather be home and with their family than being here, all in the midst of all of this stuff,” Williams said. “At the same time, I feel like it’s almost like tradition. I feel like a part of going into the next chapter of your football career. Just shaking the commissioner’s hand and holding the jersey up, that’s all a part of it.”
Cedric Ogbuehi accepted his invitation late, giving Texas colleges a representative. It marks the fifth consecutive year Texas A&M has had a player attend the draft.
“I thought about it,” said Ogbuehi, an Allen product. “It took me awhile to accept it, but it’s been a childhood dream. It’s a blessing to be here.”
Ogbuehi’s stock has risen as he continues rehabbing from knee surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament he tore in the Aggies’ bowl game. Ogbuehi projects as a late-first-round choice, giving him a chance to follow fellow Aggie offensive tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews.
Joeckel went No. 2 to the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2013, and Matthews landed with the Atlanta Falcons as the No. 6 pick last year.
“It’s cool, because we all came in together,” Ogbuehi said. “It’s a good feeling seeing them have success, and thinking about my future success.”
All the top prospects might not be here, but the fans promise to be.
Chicago has turned the draft into a must-attend event for fans, with “Draft Town” taking over Grant Park. The city expects a crowd of 100,000 on Thursday.
The party could overshadow the players, which is why the NFL isn’t all that disappointed that some top prospects chose to stay home.
“The stage that we have for them here is even bigger than it has been in the past,” Goodell said. “We’re going to probably have, we hope, 100,000 people down here, even more significant ratings than we’ve had in the past, maybe reaching 50 million people. This is a great platform for these kids to start their careers. They’re excited to be here. Their families are excited about being here. We’re thrilled to be here. This has exceeded any expectations we had. It’s something we think is going to be great for our fans and great for the NFL.”