PHILADELPHIA — Deshaun Watson, the Clemson University quarterback drafted by the Houston Texans, dared to wear spiky Christian Louboutin Dandy Pik Pik shoes, which go for $1,995, to go with a crisp tuxedo suit from J. C. Penney’s Collection by Michael Strahan.
Takkarist McKinley, a University of California, Los Angeles, defensive end selected by the Washington Redskins, rocked a blue suit with a window check pattern at the opening night of the National Football League draft on Thursday.
Derek Barnett, a University of Tennessee defensive end taken by the Philadelphia Eagles, wore a three-piece ensemble in a mellow shade of red.
But Garett Bolles, the University of Utah offensive tackle who was chosen by the Dallas Cowboys, was the fashion star the night. And it wasn’t because of the gray suit he wore (also from the Strahan line). Mr. Bolles stole the show by having the night’s best escort: his baby son, Kingston, who was also dressed in a suit of gray.
Like everyone else who strode down the red carpet here, Mr. Bolles is a large man, but he was almost lost in the teeming crowd. Like our expanding universe, the N.F.L. pursues a single course — more and bigger. And the draft has become part of the general bloat.
Once presented on ESPN as a Saturday and Sunday afternoon package, the annual selection of college football’s top players was then a sleepy event followed mainly by sports die-hards who quoted Chris Berman. Starting in 2010, the draft expanded from two days to three and was moved to prime time. Now the league has craftily turned it into a junior Super Bowl in its spectacle — and a fashion show, too.
The draft is the moment when players go from the college level — with its prohibitions against receiving gifts or financial compensation and its discouragement of off-field flash — to the world of red-carpet paparazzi and endorsement deals. Even if they are not among the top five picks, members of the Class of 2017 can still audition to become the face of Under Armour when Tom Brady retires.
This year, in its quest for bigness and moreness, the N.F.L. took over the city of Philadelphia.
Something called the N.F.L. Draft Theater was constructed on the red-carpeted steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The stage had three tiers and held more than 3,000 people. Its foam-columned facade replicated that of the museum’s, as if to confirm that football is America’s high culture. Eric Finkelstein, the league’s director of event operations, called the temporary structure “an engineering marvel.”
Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the wide, tree-lined avenue that leads to the museum, was turned into the site of a giant street festival that was expected to attract 200,000 visitors over the draft’s three days.
A few hours before the first-round picks were to be announced, there was a line 100 deep to enter the tented N.F.L. store selling team merchandise. The most popular fashion accessory spotted on the grounds was a Philadelphia Eagles jersey, in white or green. The city had taken its hosting role seriously.
On Tuesday and Wednesday — N.F.L. Draft Eve, as the sports radio talkers here took to calling it — a room in the Westin Hotel in Center City was transformed into the eighth annual N.F.L. Pre-Draft Experiential Gifting and Style Suite.
“This is all new, to be able to receive things without repercussions,” said Jayon Brown, who was one of more than 20 prospects who dropped by.
A linebacker from U.C.L.A. with blond braids and a magnetic smile, Mr. Brown was given a test spin in the iRobotics 7 medical massage chair and handed clothes to try on from a new brand called Reinge. He was also supplied with free samples of the nutritional supplement Performix and given a jacket and knapsack from the streetwear label Triple Five Soul. Representatives from Sean John asked him to have his photo taken wearing a black ball cap bearing a white-lettered phrase: “Dream Big.”
By the time the draft began, Mr. Brown and his swag were far from Philadelphia. Expected to be a later-round pick, he flew home to Long Beach, Calif., to watch it all on television. As at Oscar night, the red carpet was the domain of marquee stars.
The first player to be announced, Michael Buffer-style, and descend the stone steps was Leonard Fournette. The running back from Louisiana State, who was chosen in the first round by the Jacksonville Jaguars, kept it simple in a dark blue suit and red tie, letting his fearsome-looking under-beard do the signifying. Most of his fellow players followed his example, wearing standard suits of blue, black or gray whose main appeal was simply that they fit. Sort of.
Still, there were plenty of players willing to stand out. The Western Michigan University wide receiver Corey Davis, taken by the Tennessee Titans as the fifth pick over all, wore a blazer whose pinkish-peach shade was so distinct, its Pantone name eluded him.
“I don’t even know,” he said when asked the color. “It’s exclusive.”
Malik McDowell, a Michigan State University defensive tackle, was another prospect who dared to be distinct, wearing a black and silver blazer that shimmered in the light. The jacket was custom made for him by “a stylist named Christine,” he said, adding, “I told her I wanted something that was black, and popped.”
There was plenty of down time on the red carpet, as the players and their families mingled with the reporters, who, along with their camera operators, were stacked five deep. A regal man sat in the bleachers, his Vandyke beard dyed Indianapolis Colts blue.
Among the primping TV reporters was Jacques Doucet, the sports anchor on the scene for WAFB, a CBS affiliate in Baton Rouge, La. He patted his hair in preparation and straightened his lavender shirt, which he had paired with a purple tie a shade darker.
“Bought that today,” Mr. Doucet said of the tie-shirt combo. “Here in Philadelphia, at Century 21. Which I thought only sold real estate.”
The most stylish reporter turned out to be a moonlighting player in disguise — Rodney McLeod, a safety for the hometown Eagles. Mr. McLeod went undrafted in 2012 before making it to the N.F.L., so this was his first draft experience, he said. In his Common Projects sneakers, Ventresca checked blazer and wide-brimmed hat with a feather, was he dressed to make a statement?
“I always dress this snazzy,” Mr. McLeod said. “But you got to do a little bit extra today.”
Indeed, as the names were announced, you were reminded that, for the players and their families, this was a one-time event, a golden moment of potential before an N.F.L. career that could go any number of ways.