Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy was one of 30 players invited to New York for the NFL draft, but by Friday night he was just one of four left in the green room at Radio City Music Hall.
Finally, 28 picks into the second round, Ealy found his new team. The Carolina Panthers picked the Mizzou junior with the 60th overall selection, adding to an already fearsome defensive line with a first-team All-SEC edge rusher.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Ealy told NFL Network shortly after getting drafted. “I’ve been waiting for this moment since I was in fourth grade. For it to finally be here it’s truly a blessing.”
As Ealy crossed the stage, a fan in the audience shouted “M-I-Z!” and Ealy gave the proper reply before shaking hands with Commissioner Roger Goodell, answering, ”Z-O-U!”
Four picks later, the Seattle Seahawks drafted one of Ealy’s Mizzou teammates, offensive lineman Justin Britt.
Britt, a first-team All-SEC left tackle last fall, was the final choice of the second round, going to the Super Bowl champions with the 64th pick overall.
Britt is the just the third Missouri
offensive lineman drafted during the Gary Pinkel era and the highest O-lineman drafted out of Mizzou since John Clay was the 15th overall pick in 1987.
Britt was at a draft party at a friend’s house in his hometown of Lebanon and playing shuffleboard when he took an unexpected call from Seattle.
“When that phone rang the room went dead silent and my heart went through the basement floor,” Britt said.
Britt said the Seahawks project him as a right tackle and he could compete for the starting job left vacated by departed free agent Breno Giacomini.
It marked the first time since 1981 that Mizzou produced two second-round picks in the same draft.
Ealy, a former four-star recruit who moved from St. Louis to New Madrid, Mo., during elementary school, was a first-team All-SEC selection last season after ranking among the league’s top five for sacks (9.5) and tackles for loss (14.5). A natural 4-3 defensive end at 6-foot-4 and 275 pounds, Ealy could play multiple positions in different systems.
Ealy is the second Missouri player drafted by Carolina. The Panthers took defensive tackle Atiyyah Ellison in the third round of the 2005 draft.
Carolina has one of the league’s best defensive lines, led by two standout defensive ends in Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy. Ealy could find his way onto the field immediately as a situational pass-rusher and could become a long-term replacement for Johnson or Hardy, who was slapped with the franchise tag this year.
Ealy became the first second-round draft pick from Missouri since Atlanta drafted safety William Moore with the 23rd pick of the 2009 second round.
KIRKSEY TO CLEVELAND
Iowa linebacker Christian Kirksey, who starred at Hazelwood East, was selected with the seventh pick of the third round (71st overall) by the Cleveland Browns.
“It’s a day I’ve been working toward since I was 7, when I first stepped on a football field,’’ the 21-year-old told the Post-Dispatch last week.
Kirksey, who will receive his degree in sports business later this month, was a two-year captain and three-year starter at Iowa finishing with 315 tackles, the 16th-most in program history. He also scored three defensive touchdowns, had 13½ tackles for loss, seven fumble recoveries, five forced fumbles and four interceptions.
His career with the Hawkeyes started with adversity – not long after he reported for workouts in Iowa City prior to his freshman year, his father, Elmer, died. But Kirksey battled through and has used his father’s death as his motivation.
“We were extremely close; he was my dad and also my pastor and my friend,’’ Kirksey said. “He taught me so much and it’s those lessons I try to rely on now.... The adversity I dealt with, it helped make me a stronger person.’’
Kirksey, who stands 6 feet 1 and weighs 233 pounds, is most comfortable on the weak side but he can also play inside and will also be a force on special teams with the Browns.
Two players hoping to get the call Friday, cornerbacks Pierre Desir (Francis Howell Central, Lindenwood) and Mizzou’s E.J. Gaines, are still waiting as the draft enters its third and final day.
Rounds 4 through 7 will be held today, with action to begin at 11 a.m.
Another player anxiously awaiting his NFL destination is Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, who would become the first openly gay athlete to be drafted. Sam, who some have projected as a better fit at outside linebacker, was incredibly productive as a Missouri senior, finishing with 19 tackles for loss and 11½ sacks. At the combine, just after coming out, he showed great courage in his dealings with the media and NFL personnel but made a sub-par showing on the field.
Other players with local ties who could be drafted today include Illinois linebacker Jonathan Brown, Missouri receiver L’Damian Washington, Murray State receiver and kick returner Walter Powell (Hazelwood East), Utah State safety Maurice Alexander (Eureka), Illinois receiver Steve Hull, Missouri running back Henry Josey, Missouri receiver Marcus Lucas and Missour linebacker Andrew Wilson.
Joe Lyons of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.