Defensive linemen popular in NFL Draft

April 26, 2003 at 9:58 PM
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NEW YORK, April 26 (UPI) -- The NFL Draft began in predictable fashion Saturday, then turned almost comical and finally settled in with a big run on defensive linemen.

Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer, who signed a contract 48 hours earlier with the Cincinnati Bengals, became the fifth quarterback in six years to be chosen No. 1.

Injured superstar running back Willis McGahee was selected No. 23 by Buffalo even though he will probably not play in 2003, NCAA single-season sack record holder Terrell Suggs of Arizona State went to Baltimore at No. 10 and New Orleans traded two first-round picks for one in order to move up to the sixth slot and select Arizona defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan.

A record 11 defensive linemen were selected in the opening round Saturday and the Miami Hurricanes had a player chosen in the first round for ninth straight year, equaling the University of Florida for the all-time record.

Four Miami players went in the first round, bringing that school's total to a remarkable 13 drafted in the opening round over the past three years.

The initial selections went according to form with Palmer, receivers Charles Rogers of Michigan State and Andre Johnson of Miami, defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson of Kentucky and cornerback Terence Newman of Kansas St. filling out the first five picks.

The Bengals, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys all landed players who have been projected as likely NFL superstars.

On Thursday, Palmer signed a six-year deal worth $40 million with another possible $9 million in incentives. The contract is worth $18.25 million over the first three years with a signing bonus of $10 million.

The immediate signing marks a positive start for new Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis. When Cincinnati selected quarterbacks David Klingler and Akili Smith in the first round in 1992 and 1999, both missed their first training camps due to contract disputes.

Palmer is the first Heisman Trophy winner to be selected No. 1 overall since Vinny Testaverde in 1987 and he will initially serve as a backup to incumbent Jon Kitna. The Bengals have not had a winning season since 1990.

The 6-5, 232-pound Palmer was a highly touted prospect at USC, but was somewhat of a disappointment before flourishing as a senior with 3,942 yards passing and 33 touchdowns with 10 interceptions, including the Orange Bowl win over Iowa.

After the Bengals went through the ceremony of choosing Palmer, Detroit chose Rogers, Houston went with Johnson, the Jets selected Robertson and Dallas picked Newman.

The draft then went off on a tangent when New Orleans worked a deal with Arizona that put the Saints in the No. 6 position. They surprisingly chose defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan from Georgia.

Arizona thus passed on a chance to draft two tremendous defensive players -- either Washington State cornerback Marcus Trufant (who eventually went to Seattle at No. 11) or Suggs (who was picked by Baltimore at No. 10).

When it came time for Minnesota to pick at No. 7, the first round took an odd twist. The 15-minute deadline for a choice in the first round was reached and the Vikings announced they would pass.

As it turned out, the Vikings thought they had worked out a trade with Baltimore and were waiting for the Ravens to announce the trade to NFL officials. But that announcement never came.

So Jacksonville, which had the eighth choice, rushed in to announce its pick -- which was Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich. Carolina, which followed Jacksonville, also dashed into action to get in front of Minnesota and chose offensive tackle Jordan Gross of Utah.

The Vikings finally made their pick known and they went with the player most expected them to select in the first place -- defensive end Kevin Williams of Oklahoma State.

When Seattle moved quickly to choose Trufant at No. 11, there had been four selections in four minutes, an unheard of pace for the first round.

Palmer will face the pressure of dragging a traditionally poor team up the NFL ladder and he said he was anxious to get started.

"It's going to be tough for me to sit, but I can learn from (current starter) Jon Kitna," Palmer said. "I'm just the young guy coming in and he knows the system. I'm just happy to be the first pick and happy to be a Bengal. I think with Marvin Lewis as coach, the franchise will turn around and I want to do my part."

Palmer joins David Carr (2002), Michael Vick (2001), Tim Couch (1999) and Peyton Manning (1998) as quarterbacks who have been picked No. 1 in recent years.

Rogers and Johnson will fill similar roles with Detroit and Houston. Both teams have young quarterbacks in Joey Harrington and David Carr who need big-time receivers to throw to.

"We have been interested in Charles Rogers for a long time," said new Detroit Coach Steve Mariucci. "We had a lot of phone calls from a lot of teams trying to move up to that pick. But we had to take advantage of a chance to draft a great receiver with great speed."

Rogers won the Biletnikoff Award last season as the nation's best receiver, catching 68 passes for 1,351 yards (19.9 average) and 13 touchdowns.

The Jets traded up in the draft Friday in the expectation they would be able to select Robertson and they were able to pull it off.

"He has energy," said New York Coach Herman Edwards. "He is a big man inside who will help us with our run defense. And he can get the quarterback. That is important in this league.

"He loves football. He has a passion for football. And that is something that gets other players energized. That is what you need on a football team."

Newman was clearly the best defensive back in the draft and his speed as a four-time Big Ten sprint champion should make him a major threat as a return specialist as well.

The choice of Newman by the Cowboys, however, perhaps displayed that Jerry Jones remains in control of the Dallas draft instead of new Coach Bill Parcells.

Speculation in Dallas had been that Parcells had wanted to trade down in the first round in an attempt to land more players.

The biggest reaction during the first round came when the Bills selected McGahee, who tore three ligaments in his left knee in the Fiesta Bowl.

McGahee probably would have been a top-five pick if not for the injury, yet still declared for the draft and worked out for coaches and scouts on Tuesday, 15 weeks removed from reconstructive knee surgery.

"We think we got a special player and we are in a position where he doesn't have to play in 2003," said Bills Coach Gregg Williams of McGahee, who rushed for 1,808 yards and 27 touchdowns last season as a third-year sophomore.

Even though he is not nearly at full speed, McGahee expects to be ready for training camp. McGahee's rehabilitation has astounded doctors after he tore the anterior cruciate, posterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments.

The New York Jets, New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens moved up in the first round and landed their targeted players.

Leftwich was the second of four quarterbacks taken in the first round.

"I'm one of the top 10 players to go and it's a great feeling," Leftwich said. "My goal was never to be the No. 1 draft pick. My goal was to have a chance and an opportunity to play in the National Football League with the best players in the world."

Leftwich is the heir apparent to Mark Brunell, who has a huge salary cap number in 2004.

Another quarterback became the final selection of the opening day of the draft. Chris Simms of Texas was chosen with the last pick in the third round by the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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