Dressed in a traditional Samoan outfit, Danny Shelton — a 6-foot-2, 339-pound nose tackle — stepped on stage, scooped up the NFL commissioner in his arms and lifted him about a foot off the ground.
Shelton, who was selected No. 12 overall by the Cleveland Browns on Thursday during the first round of the NFL draft in Chicago, could not contain his excitement, and Roger Goodell served as a comical outlet.
“It was a little bit planned,” Shelton told Cleveland reporters during a conference call, “but it was just an exciting time, so I had to do it.”
But Shelton’s celebration was only the beginning of what turned out to be a historic first round for the Washington Huskies.
Six picks later, the Kansas City Chiefs grabbed former Huskies cornerback Marcus Peters with the No. 18 overall selection, giving UW a pair of first-round picks for the first time since 1995.
And seven picks after that, at No. 25 overall, the Carolina Panthers picked Shaq Thompson, an All-American who played linebacker, safety and tailback for the Huskies as a junior in 2014.
It’s the first time in school history that three Huskies were picked in the first round.
It had been 20 years since the last time UW had even two players picked in the first round, when tailback Napoleon Kaufman (No. 17 to the Raiders) and tight end Mark Bruener (No. 27 to the Steelers) each went in the first round in 1995.
Shelton becomes the highest-selected defensive player from UW since defensive end Steve Emtman, who was picked No. 1 overall by the Indianapolis Colts in 1992. Peters is the highest-selected UW defensive back since Dana Hall, who was also picked 18th overall in 1992 by the 49ers. No UW defensive back has ever been drafted higher.
Shelton’s draft stock rose steadily throughout the 2014 season as he piled up tackles and sacks at a rate not typically associated with a nose tackle. His massive frame made him a force in the middle of UW’s defensive line, and he finished the season with 93 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, nine sacks and five fumble recoveries.
He was named a first-team All-American by The Associated Press, and became the first Husky to earn first-team Academic All-America honors since 1991.
“He showed some ability to rush the passer, can play lateral and down the line of scrimmage,” Browns general manager Ray Famer told reporters during a press conference. “(He) definitely is a guy who I like to refer to as a guy who requires four hands, where he’s going to require more than one guy to pay attention to him.”
Peters’ 2014 season was more turbulent. The 6-foot, 190-pound cornerback was dismissed from the UW program by coach Chris Petersen on Nov. 6 after repeated clashes with the first-year coaching staff, including a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and subsequent sideline tantrum during a Sept. 6 game against Eastern Washington that led to Peters being suspended the following week.
But his talent — he intercepted 11 passes at UW, and three in eight games last season — as well as a months-long effort to rehabilitate his image amid questions about his character, helped Peters fulfill his potential as a first round pick.
“We all make mistakes at times in our life. Marcus realizes that,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said during a press conference in Kansas City. “We feel comfortable that he realizes that. It was an emotional situation and he didn’t handle it the right way. I think he’s learned from it, just from our experience with him.”
Thompson, meanwhile, earned first-team All-America honors after starring for the Huskies at linebacker, safety and tailback, and won the Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player. He finished the 2014 season with 81 tackles, a school-record four defensive touchdowns, and four fumble recoveries.
And when injuries thinned UW’s depth at tailback, Thompson filled in there, too, rushing for 456 yards on 61 carries. He has said repeatedly that he wants to play defense in the NFL, though it remains to be seen whether he’ll play linebacker or safety, or some combination of the two.
He told reporters during a conference call that he was “speechless” about being picked in the first round, and that his agent told him he could be drafted anywhere between the 20th and 55th picks.
“I had my mind set on being a second round pick,” Thompson told The Associated Press.
Another Husky, UW’s all-time sacks leader Hau’oli Kikaha, is expected to be picked somewhere between the second and fourth rounds. Washington hasn’t had four players selected in the same draft since 2004.