After passing on QB in '06, Raiders grab Russell

From pass-rushers to pass receivers to teams taking a redo, Len Pasquarelli takes a look at a ridiculously long first round of the NFL draft.

Originally Published: April 28, 2007
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Discerning some of the more elemental realties in the first round of the NFL draft was so easy, a guy could do it from the vantage point of his family room.

And so, the unobstructed view from deep in the recliner in front of the big-screen television: Free-falling Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn sorely needed a haircut along with a parachute. When it comes to all of the rhetoric about swapping selections in the early portion of the round, there is always a lot more talking than trading. And defense, clearly, remains the premium priority in the league.

But if you're seeking some less obvious trends, consider the "Seven R's" of Saturday's first round: Redundancy. Replacements. Rushers. Receivers. Redos. Redemption. And ridiculously long.

The redo factor began, well, at the beginning, with the first overall pick. After much speculation over how Oakland would use the top selection -- and plenty of manufactured intrigue based on the mere fact that it was owner Al Davis calling the shots -- the Raiders grabbed quarterback JaMarcus Russell. The former LSU star became the eighth quarterback in 10 years to occupy the No. 1 perch in the lottery.

But had the Raiders not passed on quarterbacks Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler a year ago, when there was disagreement in the organization over those two highly regarded players, Oakland would not have needed a new signal-caller to build around and could have gone in another direction.

"Whatever happened in the past, like even a year ago, doesn't really matter to me," Russell noted when queried about the Raiders' dismal status the past several seasons.

But what happened in the past, at least past drafts, did come into play on Saturday as the first round progressed.

Among the other redo-related choices: Houston chose 19-year-old Amobi Okoye -- the youngest player selected in the modern-era draft -- with the 10th choice. The selection of the former Louisville star came only two drafts after the Texans picked another defensive tackle, Travis Johnson, whose lack of progress precipitated a redo at the interior line position. Buffalo drafted University of California tailback Marshawn Lynch at No. 12 after dealing Willis McGahee, its first-round choice in 2003. Cleveland went for left offensive tackle Joe Thomas with the third choice despite having paid $36 million to Kevin Shaffer last spring. Clearly, the Browns' brass concluded that Shaffer wasn't the answer at the key pass-protection spot, and he'll likely be moved over to right tackle.

Largely perceived in the real world as a negative, NFL franchises demonstrated redundancy isn't always a bad thing in the league. Nowhere was that clearer than with the second pick in the first round, when the Detroit Lions chose Calvin Johnson of Georgia Tech. Although rated on most boards as the talent pool's premier prospect, Johnson became the fourth wide receiver chosen in the last five opening rounds by the Lions, who hit on Roy Williams but whiffed on Charles Rogers and Mike Williams.

They aren't likely to strike out with Johnson, a special player who figures to be a big-time threat right away in the Mike Martz-designed offense.

And how about the Washington Redskins, who just about elevated redundancy to an art form, selecting LSU safety LaRon Landry, arguably the draft's top defender, with the No. 6 overall pick? Landry is a potentially brilliant player, but even with the resurgence of the safety position in the NFL, he may have been a luxury, given that Washington already has a safety in Sean Taylor, the fifth overall pick in 2004. Washington is the first team to use two top-10 picks on safeties, a fact that mattered little to Landry.

"We should be a killer combination," Landry told ESPN.com by phone from his parents' home in Metairie, La. "I watched a lot of when he was in college, at Miami, although I haven't seen a lot of him in the pros. But he's one of the guys I've tried to emulate during my own career. On my visit with the Redskins, I met with [defensive coordinator] Gregg Williams. He seemed like a perfectionist, but also a real smart guy, so he'll figure out a way to use both of us. I'm not worried about us being the same kind of player."

Another redundancy-type choice was Dallas' selection of Purdue defensive end Anthony Spencer, which the Cowboys made with the 26th pick, after maneuvering out of and then back into the first round. Spencer will play linebacker in the 3-4 alignment preferred by new coach Wade Phillips. Never mind that Spencer's skills are a mirror of the hybrid-style abilities of DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboys' first-round choice in 2005.

"For our kind of defense," Phillips said, "you can never have enough of those kinds of guys who can come off the edge. You always want that."

As is always the case, teams used the first round to fill holes created because of departures in trades or through free agency. Defensive end Jamaal Anderson of Arkansas, the No. 8 pick, will be expected to quickly step in for Atlanta on the left side and replace Patrick Kerney, who signed with the Seattle Seahawks. Pittsburgh jumped on Florida State's Lawrence Timmons in the No. 15 slot to move into the void linebacker Joey Porter's release created. Safety Reggie Nelson of Florida is all but penciled in by Jacksonville coaches to take the place of Deon Grant, who exited in free agency.

"Big shoes to fill, no doubt about it, but I'm a confident guy," Nelson said when reached by phone late Saturday afternoon. "I mean, I sure don't see myself as just any old replacement kind of a guy, you know? But, hey, I certainly know there's an opening there and I plan to take advantage of it."

Two of the "Seven R's" reflected the significance of the passing game in the league and resulted in teams emphasizing wide receivers and pass-rushers. There were six receivers (including two from LSU) chosen in the opening round, along with five defensive ends. Those positions led all others in the opening stanza of the draft.

"One way to stop the passing game is to knock down the passer before he throws the ball," said former Florida defensive end Jarvis Moss, Denver's first-round choice at No. 17. "And that's what I'm all about."

Said San Diego pick Craig Davis, who went in the opening round along with fellow LSU wide receiver Dwayne Bowe: "It's a speed game and we saw that today, didn't we?"

What was also evidenced was a redemptive feature. Calvin Johnson, Amobi Okoye and Gaines Adams, who reportedly admitted to using marijuana during interviews at the NFL combine, were selected among the top 10 choices.

"Clearly," said the general manager of a team that chose one of the three players, "the marijuana [stuff] had zero effect."

Especially in the middle portion of the first round, teams were all about identifying and selecting the top defensive players left on their respective draft boards. At one juncture, there were nine straight defensive players chosen. In that same span, defensive players occupied 15 of the 20 slots. After teams used the top three selections on offensive prospects, there weren't consecutive offensive players chosen until late in the round. The final six selections in the round were offensive players.

The late run on offensive players tightened the final first-round scoreboard, but the round definitely skewed toward defense. The 17 defensive players chosen marked the third-most since the draft moved to 32 choices in the opening round.

Despite all the pre-draft speculation over how the early portion of the round would be reconfigured by wheeling and dealing, there were only five trades. And the first of those didn't occur until the 14th slot, when Carolina dealt the pick to the New York Jets. And at no point in the round did back-to-back choices trade hands.

That the trades were minimized, and that none came among the top 10 picks, was perhaps the lone merciful component of the first round, given that the ridiculous pace to the selections resulted in the longest initial round in NFL history (6 hours, 8 minutes).

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.