Bradford No. 1 choice in draft

Published 5:07 am Friday, April 23, 2010

NEW YORK — The Rockettes would have loved this show.

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.

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“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 very intelligent.”

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 loudspeakers.

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 the crowd.

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 3 hours, 28 minutes.

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 Jimmy Clausen.

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.