- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 30, 2006

NEW YORK — The top-10 maneuvering never happened. The three prominent quarterbacks were drafted with the first 11 picks, but not the way most expected. The same goes for the order of defensive backs selected.

The first round of yesterday’s NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall was void of the drama that many thought it would produce after the Houston Texans signed N.C. State defensive end Mario Williams on Friday night.

Every team kept its pick. The only surprise at the top was Southern Cal quarterback Matt Leinart falling to Arizona with the 10th pick.

New Orleans drafted Southern Cal running back Reggie Bush at No. 2, Tennessee selected Texas quarterback Vince Young with the third pick and the New York Jets, Green Bay and San Francisco went with need picks by taking offensive tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, linebacker A.J. Hawk and Maryland tight end Vernon Davis.

Leinart slipped to Arizona when Oakland (safety Michael Huff), Buffalo (safety Donte Whitner) and Detroit (linebacker Ernie Sims) passed.

Williams became the seventh defensive end drafted No. 1 overall and the first since Cleveland took Courtney Brown in 2000. Texans owner Bob McNair said the team offered Williams and Bush identical six-year, $54 million contracts earlier in the week. But ultimately, Houston opted for defense over offense.

“Vince Young is popular in Houston and Reggie Bush is, too,” McNair said. “It was a tough choice. It was offense vs. defense. The question we had was, what gives us a stronger team — an improved defense or an improved offense?

“Coach [Gary] Kubiak felt like he could make a big improvement on offense with the players we picked up in the offseason. If we’re going to beat Indianapolis, which we have to do in our division, we need a strong pass rush to try and contain Peyton Manning. If we had Reggie, would we score enough to beat Indianapolis? Our decision was no.”

McNair said Bush’s ongoing controversy over a house used by his parents did not factor into the Texans’ decision.

Williams will undoubtedly provide a boost to Houston’s 31st-ranked defense. He set a Wolfpack record with 14 sacks last season and seems a perfect fit for the Texans’ 4-3 defense. Later in the first round, N.C. State defensive linemen Manny Lawson (San Francisco) and John McCargo (Buffalo) were chosen.

“It takes a lot of pressure off,” Williams said. “All I have to do now is focus on football, on the training and getting along with the fellas and getting the hang of things. I always thought I had a chance to go No. 1. Defensive end is a premium position and I’m going there to help out the offense by creating turnovers and sacks.”

The Saints stayed put at No. 2 to select Bush, the Heisman Trophy winner who averaged a Division I-A-leading 233.2 all-purpose yards a game. New Orleans fielded several trade offers, but instead will have Bush join new quarterback Drew Brees and holdovers Deuce McAllister and Joe Horn.

“There was obviously a lot of speculation going on,” Bush said. “Everybody thought I was going to Houston. But I came here with an open mind because at the end of the day, we have no control over this thing. It’s up to the teams to choose who they feel is going to be best for their program.”

Tennessee was expected to go with a quarterback and the Titans chose Young’s potential over Leinart’s ability to play right away.

“I was hearing all kinds of things about what teams might do with trades,” Young said. “But when I finally heard my name, I got very excited.”

Arizona, which likely would have picked Cutler had Leinart went to Oakland, wasted little time anointing Leinart as Kurt Warner’s eventual replacement.

“I’m not disappointed,” Leinart said. “I’ve had a lot of talks with Norm Chow in recent days and he was doing everything he could to get me. … I think Arizona is a great fit for me. They have a great offense and a great quarterback that I’ll have a chance to learn from. Coach [Denny] Green said it was a gift that I was there at 10. I didn’t expect that, but you’ve got to go into this thing knowing things aren’t in your hands.”

Denver traded into the No. 11 spot to draft Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler. Later in the round, Pittsburgh traded two picks to move up seven spots to pick Ohio State receiver Antonio Holmes.

Five Ohio State players and four Florida State players were drafted in the first round. Cornerback Jimmy Williams, running back LenDale White, offensive tackle Winston Justice and receiver Chad Jackson — projected by many to go in the first 32 — fell out of the first round.

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