Draft captures long journey for Tomlinson, Duke

With the top two picks of the NFL draft choosing to stay at home to celebrate, the highlights in Chicago were a little different than the normal post-selection drama. But if there was one moment that captured the magic of Day 1 of the draft, it was the speech from Duke’s Laken Tomlinson.

Tomlinson was the 28th overall selection by the Detroit Lions, becoming the first Duke player taken in the first round since 1987.

Tomlinson, who was born in Jamaica, grew up in Chicago, so Thursday’s selection proved something of a homecoming, too. Tomlinson’s journey is an astounding one, and Laura Keeley of the Raleigh News & Observer detailed it nicely last year.

But as amazing as Tomlinson’s path from immigrant to first-rounder has been, it also caps an astounding turnaround for the Blue Devils.

The wins began coming in bunches three years ago under David Cutcliffe, but NFL talent has still been rare in Durham. Since 2001, just three Duke players had been selected in the draft, and none had been selected before the fourth round since 1999. This marks the first time Duke has had a player drafted in three straight seasons since 1998 through 2000. And while Tomlinson’s climb up draft boards certainly mirrored his talent and determination, it’s also worth noting that he won’t be the only Blue Devils player taken this year. Receiver Jamison Crowder, quarterback Anthony Boone and tackle Takoby Cofield could all be taken later this weekend. The last time Duke had four players taken in the same draft was 1973.

Obviously it’s a great selling point for Cutcliffe, who has already done a fantastic job of selling his program without the cachet of a direct pipeline to the NFL. And as examples of what the Blue Devils’ program has become, few could be any better than Tomlinson.

Overall, the ACC tied with the Pac-12 for the most Day 1 selections with nine. It’s the most first-rounders in the conference since 2006 and the second-most ever. Six different ACC schools had a player selected in the first round.