From an early Oklahoma party to
the Big 12's dominance to Tim Tebow stealing the spotlight from overall
top pick Sam Bradford, the NFL's first prime-time draft was worthy of
its Radio City Music Hall location.
Starting with quarterback
Bradford going to the St. Louis Rams on Thursday night, five of the top
six picks were from the Big 12 — three of them Sooners. In all, nine
first-rounders came from the conference.
"That's pretty cool because I
know the Big 12 has been getting a lot of slack lately," said Bradford,
the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner. "People for some reason didn't think
that we played much football in the Big 12 and sure didn't think we
played much defense, so for two defensive tackles to go in the first
three picks is a credit to the Big 12."
Give Denver credit for gambling
on Tebow, the mystery man of this draft. When the Broncos took the
Florida quarterback at No. 25, it drew the loudest reaction — a mix of
cheers and boos — from the audience.
Tebow was the third Florida
player chosen — and by far the most controversial selection Thursday
night. A winner for four years with the Gators, including two national
championships and the 2007 Heisman, his unorthodox style and strange
throwing motion made for widely divided opinions on him.
Not, apparently, for Broncos
coach Josh McDaniels, who hopes he found the long-term replacement for
Jay Cutler. In his rookie season as a head coach, McDaniels feuded with
Cutler a year ago and traded him to Chicago.
"I enjoyed the working process
and all the critics and the negativity," Tebow said. "It only pushed me
that much more and only made me work that much harder. I can honestly
say that I think that made me better."
Bradford could be a slight
gamble, as well. The Oklahoma junior who became the eighth quarterback
since 2001 taken atop the draft, appeared in only three games in 2009,
his junior year, before undergoing right shoulder surgery. His recovery
has been so complete that the Rams didn't hesitate to make him the
future face of the franchise.
Bradford joins a Rams team that
was 1-15 last season and scored a league-low 175 points. The Rams cut
incumbent Marc Bulger in the offseason.
Bradford was immediately
followed Thursday night by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska,
the AP Player of the Year; DT Gerald McCoy and OT Trent Williams,
Bradford's teammates with the Sooners.
And what about the Sooners' run at the top of the festivities?
"It's insane isn't it?" McCoy
said with a huge smile. "We can't play football in the Big 12, but the
first four picks went out the Big 12? Mmmmm — three of 'em from
Oklahoma, by the way."
Suh is considered the best
defensive tackle prospect in more than a decade. He won the Lombardi,
Bednarik and Nagurski trophies in 2009 and comes off a dominant Big 12
title game in which he had 12 tackles with 4 1/2 sacks.
"He made it an easy pick for
us," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "He's not just a one-year wonder.
He's strong. He's good versus the run. He's good versus the pass. He's
McCoy should boost a Tampa
defense that once was feared but flopped last season when it yielded
400 points. He displayed his Buccaneers jersey to the crowd and pumped
his fist high in the air as "Pirates of the Caribbean" played on the
The Big 12 bonanza kept rolling
when Washington took Williams, an All-America, to fill a huge hole at
tackle left by the retirement of Chris Samuels. Williams engulfed
commissioner Roger Goodell in a hefty bear hug onstage.
Tennessee safety Eric Berry,
also an All-American, went fifth to Kansas City, breaking the Big 12
stranglehold. Berry, noted for his versatility, also has the potential
to play cornerback.
Then it was back to the Big 12
for Oklahoma State OT Russell Okung, who went to Seattle, where
perennial Pro Bowl blocker Walter Jones might retire.
Florida cornerback Joe Haden
was chosen by Cleveland, followed by Alabama inside linebacker Rolando
McClain to Oakland. Both were All-Americans last season.
That also gave the Southeastern
Conference three picks in the first eight, showing how highly the NFL
regarded those two conferences.
Clemson running back C.J.
Spiller went ninth to Buffalo, prompting plenty of "Oh, no" responses
from Giants fans in the packed theater. McClain and Spiller were
considered main targets for the Giants.
The surprises and the swaps then began.
Jacksonville took California DT
Tyson Alualu, projected as a second-rounder by many. San Francisco then
moved up two spots, dealing for Denver's pick to get Rutgers OT Anthony
Davis. San Diego, desperate for a running back after cutting LaDainian
Tomlinson, jumped from 28th overall to 12th in a trade with Miami. The
Chargers took Fresno State's Ryan Mathews, the nation's leading rusher
at 150.7 yards per game.
The Broncos then sent the 13th
overall choice they got from the 49ers to Philadelphia, which grabbed
Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham.
That made four trades involving three consecutive picks.
Seattle added Texas safety Earl
Thomas to Okung. Jason Pierre-Paul, who played just one season at South
Florida after two years at a junior college, went to the Giants — a
choice that generally drew cheers from the blue-clad New York fans in
Georgia Tech DE Derrick Morgan
went to the Titans, the 49ers added Idaho guard Mike Iupati to Davis in
a strong effort to solidify their offensive line, and Pittsburgh went
for center Maurkice Pouncey of Florida.
Missouri linebacker Sean
Weatherspoon went to Atlanta, followed by Alabama cornerback Kareem
Jackson to Houston and tight end Jermaine Gresham, of — guess where —
Oklahoma, who was selected by Cincinnati.
Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees
announced the champion Saints' pick to finish off the showcase, Florida
State cornerback Patrick Robinson. The swift round lasted three hours, 28
St. Louis has the opening pick
of the second round Friday night, but there could be plenty of
bartering ahead as teams ponder all the talent left, including Texas
DE/LB Sergio Kindle, Southern Cal safety Taylor Mays and Notre Dame QB
The SEC was almost as popular
as the Big 12 with seven players chosen, three from Florida. Tennessee,
Oklahoma State, Alabama, California, Georgia Tech and Rutgers each had
two players chosen.
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