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NFL Draft

Bradford leads way

Big 12 produces five of top six picks, three of them Sooners

By Barry Wilner
Associated Press / April 23, 2010

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NEW YORK — The Big 12, led by Oklahoma, kicked off a big party for itself at Radio City Music Hall in the first prime-time NFL draft last night.

Tim Tebow had a grand time, too, breaking into the first round at No. 25 to Denver. The selection of the Florida quarterback, the mystery man of this draft, drew the loudest reaction — a mix of cheers and boos — from the audience.

The Rockettes would have loved it, from the early dominance of the Big 12 to the show biz drama surrounding the Broncos’ choice of Tebow.

Starting with quarterback Sam Bradford going to the Rams, five of the top six picks were from the Big 12 — three of them Sooners. In all, nine first-rounders came from the conference.

The Oklahoma junior became the eighth quarterback since 2001 taken atop the draft. He was immediately followed 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.

“That’s pretty cool because I know the Big 12 has been getting a lot of slack lately,’’ Bradford said.

Bradford, the 2008 winner of the Heisman Trophy, joins a Rams team that was 1-15 last season and scored a league-low 175 points.

Detroit chose Suh, 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.

The Big 12 bonanza kept rolling when Washington took Williams, an All-American, to fill a huge hole at tackle left by the retirement of Chris Samuels.

Tennessee safety Eric Berry, also an All-American, went fifth to Kansas City, breaking the Big 12 stranglehold.

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.

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.

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.

That made four Sooners and eight players from the Big 12 in the first 22.

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 tonight, 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.

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