Reviewing the big stories from round one of the NFL Draft ...
Mario goes to Houston
If you read my column last Monday, then you already know my feelings -- and obviously the Texans felt the same way -- about Houston taking Mario Williams over USC's Reggie Bush. So the only thing that surprises me is that more people don't agree.
I guess people are just having a hard time comprehending how the Texans could take a player most fans and many in the media (including myself, in all honesty) never had heard of before the scouting combine over one who we had watched in amazement for two years. Nobody seemed to believe Houston, but it's obvious now that the Texans were serious about going one way or the other.
They went the right way.
It's not about Williams being a better player than Bush. That's debatable. It's about who's better for the Texans. That's been my point all draft week. It's about the more valuable, more impact position -- defensive end. It's about having a potentially explosive offense or a competitive defense. Houston gave up the most points in the league last year. Opposing quarterbacks put up MVP-type numbers against Houston: 65 percent, 24 touchdowns, seven interceptions, a 100.0 efficiency rating. Unless Bush was going to play cornerback, too, he wouldn't have helped the Texans in that department. And thus he wouldn't have helped Houston add a Super Bowl championship to the national title the state's university won this year anytime soon, because defense wins ... well, you know.
Houston never has beaten Indianapolis in eight tries. If the Texans are to ever overtake the Colts they have to start harassing Peyton Manning the way the Chargers, Patriots, and Steelers do. And now the Texans have to deal with Vince Young in the division. They see Byron Leftwich twice a year. Williams made more sense.
And while we're on the subject of cents (and dollars), believe me when I tell you that Williams over Bush was not a financial decision, either. Take that back, finances had a little something to do with it. The Texans had reservations about paying $9 million a year to a player who they weren't certain was going to carry the ball more than 15 times a game. Sure when he's on the field he has to be accounted for but, in Houston's mind, it's questionable accounting to invest so much in a player out of whom a team may get the most if his touches are limited. We'll soon see. And don't think the Texans didn't notice Bush standing on the sideline at key moments of the Rose Bowl.
Back to Williams. A lot of people like to point out that all but one of his 14½ sacks came in NC State's first four games and that he had a sack in only 16 of his 36 collegiate games. Well, how many players have a sack in every game? Production by an end can't always be measured in sacks. The Texans studied the film and saw how often Williams pressured the quarterback out of the pocket or drew double teams and extra attention or penetrated the backfield (52 tackles for loss along with 25½ sacks in his career). The Texans didn't have a defensive player that teams feared, and Williams' presence should make not just Houston's defensive line but also its young secondary better.
Saints get their saviour
As a native New Orleanian, I have to admit I almost cried when Bush put on that New Orleans Saints cap. Saints fans and the people of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast know what I'm talking about.
Few good things have happened to this franchise in its history, the worst of which was last season with Hurricane Katrina. The Saints have always been (sometimes loveable) losers. They've won one of five playoff games. Mike Ditka traded an entire draft for Ricky Williams. Over their history the Saints have drafted poorly. They've spent foolishly. They've let good players get away. Bush didn't get away, even though I'd heard earlier in the day that Bush had his agent, Joel Segal, tell the Saints that Bush didn't want to play for them and wanted to be a Jet.
My man Michael Irvin said it best yesterday during ESPN's draft telecast. Bush falling to the Saints was nothing short of a blessing.
That's going to be an exciting offense, for sure, if everyone stays healthy. Drew Brees. Joe Horn. Deuce McAllister can be Bush's LenDale White. I can't wait for the first game in the Super Dome, Sept. 24, Monday night, Saints vs. Falcons. Bush and Michael Vick on the same field.
Young goes third; Leinart falls to 10
Speaking of blessings, Matt Leinart should thank his lucky desert stars that he fell to the Arizona Cardinals. Think Ben Roethlisberger has any regrets about falling to 11 two years ago? Leinart will make his money.
And as smart as he already is, he gets to learn behind Kurt Warner and eventually play with Edgerrin James, Anquan Boldin, and Larry Fitzgerald. Arizona's a great spot for him, not to mention he gets to stay out West.
Taking nothing away from what Leinart accomplished at USC, coaches and scouts I talked to leading up to the draft wondered how good he would have been if not for an all-star supporting cast. Quarterbacks fall into one of two categories: playmakers, like Vince Young, and those who need playmakers. Leinart needs playmakers to be successful. In Tennessee, sure he would have been comfortable in Norm Chow's system, but how comfortable would he have been getting his brains beat in behind the Titans' line and throwing to, with all due respect, a bunch of No. 2-caliber receivers?
That's why the Titans took Young over Leinart. Young makes them better because he's a dual threat. A lot of top defensive players to whom the Titans spoke, such as A.J. Hawk and Michael Huff, said Young was the best player they faced. Titans coaches believed Young to be more advanced with regard to football intelligence (and remember, he's a junior) coming out than Steve McNair was coming out of Alcorn State in 1995. And I don't believe the Titans were as torn over which QB to take as was made out. Obviously Chow wanted Leinart. Jeff Fisher told people he liked Young and told people he liked Leinart. I think talking up Leinart was maybe more a case of Fisher trying to appease Chow.
Leinart's also the perfect fit for Dennis Green, whose offense has to have a smart quarterback who excels at anticipation to click. Warner inevitably will get hurt, and so Leinart's being the "most ready to play" among the big three quarterbacks should come in handy real soon. And what an offseason for the Cardinals, long one of the league's worst franchises, who have succeeded in generating plenty of excitement as they move into a new stadium.
As for Leinart's New York state of mind, trust me when I tell you that there was no way the Jets were going to take him at No. 4 over D'Brickashaw Ferguson. None. New York badly needed a tackle. The Jets saw Leinart as a flashier Chad Pennington. Plus, Leinart's not their kind of guy, anyway.
Think about it. New Jets coach Eric Mangini comes from the ultimate team, the New England Patriots, a team I covered daily for three years. Theirs is a faceless franchise, all for one and one for all, no one player above the team, yada, yada, yada. Tom Brady is one of the guys.
Leinart seems cool but the minute the Jets would've taken him he'd have been the face of the team, the star player, a huge deal in the Big Apple. That's not what Mangini and new general manager Mike Tannenbaum are about. Now, that being said, word is Leinart still was the highest-rated QB on the Jets' board, and had he slipped further than 10th, they may have made a play for him using their second first-round pick and their second-round pick.
No surprise, freakish Maryland tight end Vernon Davis went sixth to the 49ers. Just wanted to say I'm a huge fan of Davis' after what he said in the New York papers last week about how great he was and seeing him shed tears after being selected. Gotta' love those moments.
Whitner goes eighth?
No lie, I'd heard from a league source days ago that Bills GM Marv Levy wanted Ohio State safety Donte Whitner. I trust my source but Whitner going in the top 10 seemed so farfetched to me that I didn't believe it. For what it's worth I also heard from my source that Bills owner Ralph Wilson was in love with Vanderbilt QB Jay Cutler and that the Bills gave Leinart a second-round grade and Young a third-round grade.
Lions finally go defense
Florida State outside linebacker Ernie Sims is another player I've come to love after talking to personnel people over the past several months. He can be to coach Rod Marinelli in Detroit what Derrick Brooks is to Tampa Bay. Marinelli and defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson can play Sims at the "stacked Wil" linebacker, meaning he will be protected by a lineman on the weak side, and let him run around and make plays. So don't worry about Sims' lack of size, Lions fans.
Honestly, I was a little surprised the Lions didn't go wide receiver again. This time they really do need one.
Broncos get Cutler
There were reports that St. Louis was looking into trading up to get Cutler. The Rams loved Cutler as their quarterback of the future and were hoping he'd fall to them at the 11 spot, but they didn't want to send a bad message to incumbent Marc Bulger by trading up for Cutler. But the Rams are OK at QB with Bulger and Gus Frerotte so they made a smart move by picking up a third-rounder and still getting their top-rated corner, Clemson's Tye Hill, at No. 15.
Meanwhile, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan obviously isn't concerned about hurting anybody's feelings. Say what you want about Jake Plummer, but the guy was great last year, leading Denver to the AFC title game. People were talking, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, about "No Mistake Jake" as a possible MVP at one point last year. And the guy isn't old (31). But I'll bet he isn't very happy right now. I guess when you have a shot at getting the guy a lot of experts consider the best quarterback available, you do so. Plus Plummer can tutor Cutler for a year or so.
Maroney a good fit
I like the Laurence Maroney pick. I thought New England would go with Manny Lawson, but instead took the Minnesota running back in the first round. The thing about the Patriots is that they've never had real backup runner. Kevin Faulk is a change-of-pace, third-down back who's really not suited to carry it a lot. So when Antowain Smith began to slow down and Corey Dillon got hurt last year they didn't have a real go-to guy.
Not only do they have a back for the not-to-distant future but now they've got a setup much like the Dolphins had last year with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, or the Chiefs with Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson, or the Steelers with Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker, or as the Jets used to have with Curtis Martin and LaMont Jordan.