- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 30, 2006

No team has gone longer without a championship than the Arizona Cardinals, who last won the title in 1947. The Cardinals, a typical 5-11 last year, have had just one winning season since 1984, but they not only made the biggest splash in free agency by signing star running back Edgerrin James, they were the surprise winners of the first round of yesterday’s NFL Draft. That’s because Southern Cal quarterback Matt Leinart, generally regarded as a top-five player, fell to Arizona at No. 10.

Arizona coach Dennis Green said the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner was “a gift.” Many projections had Leinart going to Tennessee, whose offense is run by Norm Chow, his former coordinator at USC, and whose coach, Jeff Fisher, who also went to USC. That the Titans chose Texas’ national title-winning quarterback, Vince Young, in the big and mobile mold of longtime starter Steve McNair, shows general manager Floyd Reese is in command and that Fisher might be in trouble after going 9-23 the past two seasons.

Denver quarterback Jake Plummer also lost some of his stranglehold on his job yesterday. The Broncos gave a third-round pick to St. Louis to move up four spots and take Vanderbilt passer Jay Cutler at No. 11. Cutler follows Tommy Kramer (Minnesota, 1977) and Phil Simms (New York Giants, 1979) as the only quarterbacks never to have a winning season in college to get drafted in the first round since 1970. Plummer and Cutler should benefit from yesterday’s trade with Green Bay for talented receiver Javon Walker.

Another player whose tenure with his team became shaky is New Orleans running back Deuce McAllister. The Saints, who have a new coach, Sean Payton, chose Reggie Bush. McAllister’s former teammate, quarterback Aaron Brooks, strengthened his stature as Oakland’s starter when the Raiders passed on Leinart and took Texas safety Michael Huff at No. 7.

Buffalo, with a new GM, Marv Levy, and new coach, Dick Jauron, made the most curious choice in the first round at No. 8, picking Ohio State safety Donte Whitner, who wasn’t expected to be a first-rounder, let alone a top-10 selection. The Bills made another strange move by trading with Chicago for the 26th pick and taking N.C. State defensive tackle John McCargo, who wasn’t generally considered that accomplished.

Washington’s NFC East rivals, Philadelphia, Dallas and the New York Giants, all went for defense in the first round. The Eagles, who let Pro Bowl defensive tackle Corey Simon go in a salary dispute last summer, replaced him with space-eater Brodrick Bunkley. The Cowboys continued to rebuild a defense that has slipped since ranking first in 2003, taking Ohio State linebacker Bobby Carpenter (whose father, Rob, played for Dallas coach Bill Parcells with the Giants from 1983 to 1985) at No. 18. The Giants traded down to the last choice of the round and took swift but thin Boston College defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka.

“Our objective on the defensive line is that we have enough depth there so that we can throw fastballs at the offense,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said. “This allows us to do that. He’s a big explosive football player.”

So are Maryland tight end Vernon Davis (No. 6) and N.C. State defensive end Manny Lawson (No. 22), who gave lowly San Francisco a nice first-round haul. The New York Jets, the other team with two first-rounders, took Virginia offensive tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Ohio State center Nick Mangold to protect ex-Redskins quarterback Patrick Ramsey and incumbent quarterback Chad Pennington.

The first wide receiver wasn’t chosen yesterday until Pittsburgh replaced Antwaan Randle El with Ohio State’s Santonio Holmes at No. 25. Holmes was the only receiver taken in the first round along with just three quarterbacks and three running backs: Bush, Minnesota’s Laurence Maroney (No. 21 to New England, where Corey Dillon will be 32 in October) and LSU’s Joseph Addai (No. 30 to Indianapolis to replace James).

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