NFL draft attendance record set
Posted: April 28, 2024 - 3:00am

DETROIT (AP) — The NFL draft has a new attendance record after more than 700,000 fans flooded downtown Detroit for the three-day event.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer broke the news Saturday at Campus Martius Park.

“We have shown the world what the Motor City is all about," Whitmer said.

While it will take years to know if this week’s picks panned out, there’s no doubt that Detroit made the most of an opportunity to host hundreds of thousands of fans and show 50-plus million viewers the new-look city.

Motown beat Music City’s three-day attendance record of 600,000 set in 2019, when fans filled Broadway in Nashville.

The NFL did not charge fans to attend the event in Detroit, though the visitors and area residents were expected to generate more than $160 million in economic impact at sold-out hotels, packed bars and restaurants, and retail stores in the heart of downtown.

Twenty-plus teams are engaged in talks with the league to host a future draft, which is of particular interest in colder-climate cities that probably can’t expect to get a Super Bowl.

Green Bay is on the clock as next year’s host.

This year’s edition kicked off with a very Detroit opening on Thursday night that included rap icon Eminem on stage with Hall of Famers Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson, along with current Lions stars Jared Goff, Aidan Hutchinson and Amon-Ra St. Brown.

Chicago, as expected, drafted Southern California’s Caleb Williams at No. 1 overall. The Bears took Iowa punter Tory Taylor on Saturday in the fourth round.

“Hey, you're not going to punt too much here,” Taylor said Williams wrote to him in a text message.

Williams was the first of a record five quarterbacks picked among the top 10, including Atlanta's surprising selection of Michael Penix Jr. a month after giving Kirk Cousins a big contract. With Denver drafting Bo Nix out of Oregon at No. 12, a mark was matched for signal-callers selected in the first round.

In all, a record-setting 23 offensive players were drafted in the opening round.

After Nix went to the Broncos, the New Orleans Saints were the next team to take a quarterback when they drafted Spencer Rattler of South Carolina in the fifth round with the 150th pick overall. The string of selections without a quarterback was the longest since 1967.

Teams started out by taking offensive players at an unprecedented rate in the first round — including a record-tying seven wide receivers — without a defensive player coming off the board until Indianapolis took UCLA edge rusher Laiatu Latu at No. 15 overall.

In a sign of the times, a running back wasn’t drafted until Carolina grabbed Jonathon Brooks of Texas with the 46th pick in what was the second-latest pick at the once-coveted position. There was a run of running backs in the fourth round with seven selected, starting with Miami taking Jaylen Wright of Tennessee at No. 120 overall.

Defense was the focus on Day 2, with 20 players on that side of the ball coming off the board in the second round and 17 more in the third.

With the last pick of the fifth round, the New York Jets selected a prospect who didn’t have a snap of college football experience.

Qwan’tez Stiggers planned to play at Lane College in Tennessee in 2020, but returned home that fall due to the death of his father in a car crash and the COVID-19 pandemic wiping out the season.

Stiggers played in a 7-on-7 indoor league in his hometown of Atlanta two years ago. Last season, the defensive back was the Canadian Football League’s most outstanding rookie after making a team-high five interceptions for the Toronto Argonauts.

Stiggers plans to make teams that passed on him regret it.

"They’re going to have to pay all year," he said.

The Jets also made the 257th and final pick of the seven-round draft, making Alabama defensive back Jaylen Key the player known as “Mr. Irrelevant,” and hoping he has a fraction of the success San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy has had since being the last selection in 2022.

More sons of former NFL players were selected Saturday, including Jeremiah Trotter Jr. in the fifth round by Philadelphia, where his father was a Pro Bowl linebacker, and USC receiver Brenden Rice, whose father is Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, going in the seventh round to the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Chargers also drafted a player with a famous relative, taking Troy running back Kimani Vidal, a great nephew of Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, early in the sixth round.

In Detroit, the crowd cheered each time the Lions made a pick or when a Michigan player was selected.

The national-title winning Wolverines had the most players drafted, starting with Minnesota moving up to take quarterback J.J. McCarthy at No. 10 overall.

Michigan finished with 13 players drafted, trailing the total of just three schools since the draft went to seven rounds in 1994, including Georgia’s 2022 national championship team that had a record 15 players picked.

AP Pro Football Writer Dennis Waszak Jr. in Florham Park, New Jersey, contributed to this report.