NEW YORK (April 29, 2006) -- Mario Williams, Reggie Bush and Vince Young all went in the top five of the NFL draft as expected.
Not Matt Leinart.
The 2004 Heisman Trophy winner took a slide to No. 10, finally going to Arizona after three teams in desperate need of a signal caller passed on the Southern California quarterback.
Williams went No. 1 overall to Houston, one day after the North Carolina State standout signed a six-year, $54 million contract. Bush, who teamed with Leinart at USC, next went to New Orleans.
But Tennessee and the New York Jets -- both with quarterback issues -- went a different route.
The Titans went for Vince Young of Texas at No. 3, a younger, faster version of the aging Steve McNair. The Jets, who have Chad Pennington coming off his second rotator cuff injury, took Virginia left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson fourth.
Green Bay selected Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk, dropped Leinart out of the top five, a somewhat surprising fall considering he would have been the top overall pick last year if he left school early as a junior.
San Francisco had the next pick, and took Maryland tight end Vernon Davis after selecting quarterback Alex Smith No. 1 overall in 2005.
Leinart, a left-hander who has played in a pro-style offense, succeeded Pro Bowl quarterback Carson Palmer at USC and fits the classic dropback model. But there have been questions about his arm strength that might have contributed to his slide. The Cardinals also needed a quarterback to learn behind Kurt Warner.
The addition of Leinart is another huge piece to the Arizona offense. The Cardinals signed Colts running back Edgerrin James as a free agent, and have the best receiver tandem in the NFL in Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.
Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler, the final quarterback of the "Big Three," went to Denver at No. 11 after the Broncos traded up four spots to get St. Louis' pick. The Rams get Denver's No. 15 pick, and also got a third-round selection (No. 68 overall).
Though the suspense was already gone by the time the No. 1 pick was announced -- and with the crowd booing and chanting "overrated" -- Williams proudly hugged commissioner Paul Tagliabue after his name was called at Radio City Music Hall, home to the famed Rockettes.
"I came from behind. I'm an underdog, basically," Williams said. "There's kind of a chip on my shoulder."
Though Bush was projected as the top selection, the Texans made the surprising and bold move for Williams. The defensive disrupter got a deal worth $26.5 million guaranteed.
Williams, who has been described as a cross between Julius Peppers and Lawrence Taylor, saw his stock soar after his amazing performance at the NFL combine in February. The 6-foot-6 1/2, 292-pound Williams ran the 40-yard dash in 4.73 seconds and had 35 reps on the 225-pound bench press.
He becomes the first defensive end taken No. 1 overall since Courtney Brown went to the Cleveland Browns in 2000, and the 12th defensive lineman to be picked at the top of the draft. The Texans, who haven't had a winning season in their four-year existence, got the first pick after going 2-14 this past season.
"He can be another Reggie White," Texans owner Bob McNair said. "That's what our people think."
Throughout the college football season, Bush dazzled with his electrifying moves and stunning speed en route to the Heisman Trophy.
Now the running back will bring his act to New Orleans, teaming with newly signed free-agent quarterback Drew Brees and running back Deuce McAllister, who is rehabilitating a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.
"I'm coming in there strong, I'm coming in there to help win some games, and I'm coming in there to help the city get turned around," Bush said, wearing a hat with the Saints' fleur-de-lis.
Bush has had more on his mind than the draft after questions were raised concerning who paid the rent for a home his parents lived in, and whether an agent was involved, which could violate NCAA rules. He's adamantly insisted there was no wrongdoing.
The 6-foot, 200-pound Bush, who wore San Diego's 619 area code painted underneath his eyes during USC games, had 1,740 yards rushing and 2,890 all-purpose yards this past season for the Trojans as a junior. He decided to leave school early to enter the draft after USC lost to Texas in the national championship game.
Bush averaged 8.9 yards per carry this season, caught 37 passes for 478 yards and led the nation in all-purpose yards with 222.3 per game. Bush shared the tailback position for three years with LenDale White, and the two combined for 99 career touchdowns to break the NCAA record of 97 set by Army's Glenn Davis and Felix "Doc" Blanchard from 1943-46.
White is expected to go later in the draft.
Though Leinart played for Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow at USC, general manager Floyd Reese was said to prefer Young, who passed for 267 yards, ran for 200 more and scrambled 8 yards on fourth down with 19 seconds left for the winning touchdown in a 41-38 win over Leinart and USC in the Rose Bowl. Though he has terrific running ability and a great arm, many are unsure how he will fit into a pro-style offense.
The Titans are in messy negotiations with McNair, who was told to stay away from team headquarters until talks to reduce his salary cap number are resolved.
Though Green Bay needs a replacement for Brett Favre, the Packers are content with backup Aaron Rodgers, who was their first-round pick last year.
Oakland took Texas defensive back Michael Huff at No. 7, Buffalo chose Ohio State safety Donte Whitner eighth and Detroit finally went for a defensive player, taking Florida State linebacker Ernie Sims at No. 9.
After Cutler, there was a run on defensive linemen. Cleveland and Baltimore swapped spots, with the Ravens picking Oregon DT Haloti Ngata at No. 12 and the Browns taking Florida State DE Kamerion Wimbley at No. 13. The Eagles selected FSU tackle Brodrick Bunkley No. 14, the Rams took Clemson cornerback Tye Hill at No. 15, Miami picked Tennessee safety Jason Allen and the Vikings got Iowa linebacker Chad Greenway.