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Chargers-Giants trade sets the tone

During the hour or so he spent in pigskin purgatory as the latest savior of the San Diego Chargers, quarterback Eli Manning turned to his more famous older brother and noted: "Hey, a little bit crazy, isn't it?"

Uh, a little bit crazy, Eli? In less time than it took for some clever vinyl collector to redirect the trucks hauling the old Three Dog Night recording of "Eli's Coming" from San Diego to New York, football convention was turned on its ear during Saturday's first round of the 2004 draft, as wackiness reigned supreme.

How else to explain what might be regarded as the most monumental trade in the history of the draft, at least in terms of top five prospects switching teams before the lottery was an hour old, with the swap of the reluctant Manning for Philip Rivers? Or the fact offense so thoroughly dominated the top half of the round? Or that the position of wide receiver, a spot at which franchises typically acknowledge they can unearth prospects in the third round, was in such favor?

And how about this one: Twenty-one choices into the round, the Miami Hurricanes had more prospects chosen (six) than any single conference to that point.

So, yes, Eli, it was a little bit crazy ... thanks in part to your intransigence about playing in one of the country's most appealing cities but for the NFL's most unappealing franchise. And while the zany quotient went off the scales right in the first hour, with the landmark juxtaposition of franchise-level quarterbacks, the needle never wavered much at all. With 10 trades in all, nearly six hours of decisions both savvy and savage, and plenty of high drama and even loftier intrigue, it was a first round for the ages.

In fact, about the only component that might have significantly exacerbated the goofiness would have been a third time-limit snafu by the Minnesota Vikings, who are rumored to have had a functionary stationed at the Greenwich Meridian monitoring every second the club was on the clock.

Let the record indicate that the uncharacteristically diligent Vikings delivered their first-round choice, Southern California defensive end Kenechi Udeze, to the podium with lots of time to spare. That might have been one of the few expeditious moves in the round, as nearly two-thirds of 32 choices weren't exercised until at least 10 minutes had lapsed in the 15-minute time frame allotted for first-round deliberations.

Said wide receiver Roy Williams, the former University of Texas star chosen by Detroit with the seventh pick (but only after Lions executives had moved back one spot in the batting order): "Man, it dragged, almost like time stood still or something."

For a player who moves so quickly, clocked in the mid-4.4s in the 40, sloth is an element Williams does not reconcile very well. But he was one of the lucky players, a prospect who knew his fate early in the proceedings, on a day when some teams must have pored over every entry in the resume before finally submitting their choices.

When those choices were eventually filed with league officials, more often than not, the cards turned into NFL personnel officials bore the names of offensive players. That was particularly true in the top half of the round, when just five of the 16 players chosen were on the defensive side of the ball. By the end of the round, the disparity had been closed a bit, but there were still 19 offensive players off the board in the initial 32 picks.

So much for the hackneyed axiom about how defense captures championships. But then again, in a first round fraught with so many incredible twists and ironies, it was a sort of convention-be-damned day anyway.

"Going in, I think people understood the early quality was on offense, and so we saw the big push on those players right out of the box," said Buffalo president/general manager Tom Donahoe, who used a trade to come out of the round with a quarterback and a wide receiver. "Offense just had a lot of momentum early and that's a little unusual. I guess it kind of got contagious."

Epidemic, in fact, might be a better term. The Oakland Raiders, who had chosen only two offensive linemen in the first five rounds of the five previous drafts, took Iowa left tackle Robert Gallery with the second overall selection. So much for Al Davis' predilection for blazing speed, and the belief the Raiders would grab Williams. Pittsburgh, which had not exercised a first-round choice on a quarterback since choosing Mark Malone in the 1980 draft, settled on signal-caller Ben Roethlisberger. The Rams are woefully thin at defensive end but that didn't stop St. Louis from choosing tailback Steven Jackson, the heir to Marshall Faulk, and a player who slid all the way to the 24th spot in the round.

The round opened with four consecutive offensive choices, including two quarterbacks; seven of the top 10 selections were on the offensive side. The passing game, in terms of quarterbacks, wideouts and tight ends, accounted for 13 of the 32 first-round picks. In the second half of the round, the 16 picks were evenly split between offense and defense and there was a mini-run on cornerbacks, with four chosen overall in the stanza.

Nothing could rival, though, the frenetic run on wide receivers. There were five wide receivers chosen among the top 15 players and, in all, a record seven wideouts went off the board in the first round. The conventional wisdom in the days preceding the draft was that there was so much wide receiver depth this year, some teams would wait to grab a pass-catcher in the second round, and address other needs first.

But once the Arizona Cardinals made one of the round's few predictable gambits, choosing Pitt star Larry Fitzgerald at the No. 3 slot, the wide receivers became hot commodities. It was like tossing chum in the water and shark-like personnel directors set aside whatever plans they had to delay a wide receiver acquisition. One general manger who had passed on a wide receiver in the first round lamented to ESPN.com by phone that the "cupboard was picked bare" of wideouts in the opening round.

Typical of the wide receiver run was that the Lions took Williams despite having used the second overall choice in the 2002 draft on Charles Rogers, another speedy pass catcher. And Atlanta, which used its first-round choice last year to trade for Peerless Price, maneuvered a deal to get a second pick in the first round Saturday so that it could add to the arsenal for Michael Vick by plucking wideout Michael Jenkins of Ohio State.

Among the other surprises in the round:

• The plummet of Jackson, the top-rated tailback on many boards, but a player ignored by at least three teams with running game issues.

• A decision by the Washington Redskins to take safety Sean Taylor over Miami teammate Kellen Winslow, the tight end coach Joe Gibbs is said to have coveted.

• The inclusion of two fringe first-rounders, defensive end Jason Babin (to Tennessee) and tight end Ben Watson (to New England), in the round.

Then again, given the overall "quirky quotient" in the round and the absence of convention, nothing should have been surprising.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.