- The Washington Times - Friday, May 18, 2007

Dallas and Green Bay dominated the NFC from 1992 to 1997, winning five conference titles and four Super Bowls during that stretch. But since then there have been as many seasons without the Cowboys or Packers in the playoffs (two) as there have been postseason victories.

And though each team still owns its state’s heart, their first-round picks in last month’s draft weren’t greeted with hosannas.

Not only did the Cowboys pass on popular Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn, further tying their destiny to second-year starter Tony Romo, they didn’t land a young receiver although starting wideouts Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn will both be 33 this season. Instead, Dallas took Purdue defensive end Anthony Spencer, its fourth front seven first-rounder in three years.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said the Dallas braintrust had only 21 players rated as worthy of being first-rounders, which is why the Cowboys traded down from No. 22 and picked up Cleveland’s first-rounder in 2008. Said new coach Wade Phillips: “We did not have to draft because of need.”

They just need to win a playoff game for the first time since 1996, let alone Jones’ fourth Super Bowl.

Meanwhile, Packers general manager Ted Thompson chose Tennessee defensive tackle Justin Harrell 16th overall — much higher than he was rated by most draftniks — although he had barely talked to him. Harrell said he had 15-minute interviews at the NFL combine with all but a couple of teams and the Packers weren’t one of them.

“I saw Justin at the combine and he was walking by and I shook hands with him,” Thompson said on draft day.

The Packers rated Harrell. who missed 15 college games with biceps, leg and ankle injuries and had just four career sacks, as the draft’s top defensive tackle ahead of Amobi Okoye, who went 10th to Houston. The Packers noted that Harrell had the highest score of the top 12 defensive tackles on the Wonderlic intelligence test.

“I came to the conclusion that he’s a very well-rounded guy,” Thompson said. “Any time you had a chance to get a quality defensive lineman of his ability, you have to think about taking him.”

Harrell is the fourth defensive tackle drafted by Green Bay in the first round since 1980, following Alphonso Carreker, Vonnie Holliday and Jamal Reynolds, none of whom became stars.

“I saw it, I heard about it,” Harrell said of the draft day crowd of about 2,000 at Lambeau Field loudly booing his selection. “That’s something I can’t control. I just want to show everybody that the Packers didn’t make a bad decision selecting me.”

On the cheap — NFC champion Chicago had three big names among its inexpensive rookie free agent class: national championship quarterback Chris Leak of Florida; receiver Drisan James, whose last-minute fourth-and-18 lateral keyed Boise State’s stunning upset of Oklahoma; and New Hampshire receiver David Ball, who broke Jerry Rice’s Division I-AA record for touchdown catches.

Ball told the Chicago Tribune that he was nicknamed “Uncle Ben” at the East-West Game because he’s “white rice.” Bears coach Lovie Smith isn’t worried that Ball’s 40-yard time is just 4.66 seconds.

“I’d say he’s an exception to the rule and has been all his life,” said Smith, who has three Pro Bowl players who weren’t drafted: defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, kicker Robbie Gould, and special teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo. “What’s the first thing a receiver has to do? Catch the ball. He catches the ball.”

Draft, what draft? — The New York Jets took only four players, the fewest in team history. The Jets selected Pitt cornerback Darrelle Revis in the first round, Michigan linebacker Harris in the second, Nicholls State offensive tackle Jacob Bender in the sixth and Clemson receiver Chansi Stuckey in the seventh.

The Jets had started the draft with six picks after trades with Dallas, Tampa Bay, Washington and San Francisco in 2005 and 2006. They traded up to take both Revis and Harris, chose Bender with the Bucs’ sixth-rounder and acquired a seventh from Green Bay to pick Stuckey.

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