NEW YORK — Six weeks after saying goodbye to Peyton Manning, the Indianapolis Colts handed Andrew Luck a blue and white jersey and the daunting task of leading a rebuilding team as its quarterback for the next decade.
Luck couldn't have chosen a tougher act to follow — all Manning did was win an unprecedented four MVP awards and a Super Bowl for Indy. But many believe he is the most NFL-ready passer to enter the league since Manning went No. 1 overall in 1998.
"You don't really replace a guy like that," Luck said. "You can't. You just try to do the best you can. Obviously, he was my hero growing up."
His selection as the top pick was hardly a surprise. The Colts informed the Stanford quarterback last week that Commissioner Roger Goodell would announce his name first Thursday night. Right behind him was Baylor QB Robert Griffin III, the Heisman Trophy winner, who was taken second overall by the Washington Redskins. No suspense attached to that pick, either.
After being loudly booed at the outset, Goodell told a raucous crowd at Radio City Music Hall that "the season begins tonight, so let's kick if off." Then he did, congratulating Luck while the crowd chanted "RG3, RG3."
Luck left the stage and slapped hands with some fans in Colts shirts and headed to the interview room.
To get Griffin, Washington dealt a second-round pick this year and its first-rounders in 2013 and '14 to St. Louis to move up four spots
Dressed in a light blue suit that didn't quite mesh with Redskins burgundy and gold, Griffin had some trouble getting the team hat over his braids and ended up wearing it just a tad crooked while he flashed big smiles for photos.
Less than an hour before Goodell began the draft, Cleveland and Minnesota pulled off another trade in what would become a virtual swap shop. The Browns moved up just one spot, from fourth to third, to ensure getting running back Trent Richardson of national champion Alabama. Minnesota received picks in the fourth, fifth and seventh rounds and still was in position to get one of the elite prospects in this draft.
Like Griffin, Richardson was treated with lusty cheers from the crowd. Unlike Griffin, he had less trouble placing the Cleveland hat over his impressive dreads.
Minnesota then took Southern California offensive tackle Matt Kalil, whom the Vikings were expected to take at No. 3 anyway.
Luck's good fortune put him in a similar position to Stanford predecessors Jim Plunkett, who won two Super Bowls for the Raiders, and John Elway, who led Denver to two NFL titles. He is the fourth consecutive quarterback chosen first and 12th in the last 15 years, dating back to Manning.
Elway now runs the Broncos and recently signed Manning as a free agent after Manning missed all of last season following neck surgery.
After Minnesota took Kalil, Jacksonville jumped up two spots, trading with Florida neighbor Tampa Bay to get Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, the top receiver in this crop.
"It just goes to show you that anything can happen," Blackmon said, referring to the Jaguars going after him.
St. Louis must have liked dealing down because the Rams did it again, trading with Dallas, which was 14th overall. The Cowboys selected LSU's Morris Claiborne, the top cornerback, adding him to free agent signing Brandon Carr and shoring up what was a Swiss cheese secondary.
St. Louis got a second-rounder in the deal.
Tampa Bay finished off a wild 30 minutes of bartering by grabbing Alabama safety Mark Barron seventh overall.
A third quarterback went eighth where Miami — can you believe it? — stayed put. The Dolphins took Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill, who played wide receiver for most of his time in college. His coach at A&M, Mike Sherman, is the Dolphins offensive coordinator.
Carolina selected Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, the nation's leading tackler. Buffalo chose cornerback Stephon Gilmore of South Carolina and Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe went to Kansas City.
Philadelphia moved up from 15 to 12, giving Seattle two later picks, then took Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.
Notre Dame receiver William Floyd went to Arizona, then the Rams finally got involved, taking LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers.
Three more defensive players followed: West Virginia end Bruce Irvin to Seattle, North Carolina end Quinton Coples to the Jets, and Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick to Cincinnati.