NEW YORK -- So much for the Year of the Quarterback.
Yes, Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb and Akili Smith went 1-2-3 to Cleveland, Philadelphia and Cincinnati in Saturday's NFL draft -- the first quarterback trifecta since 1971.
And five QBs overall were taken in the top dozen with Daunte Culpepper going to Minnesota with the 11th pick and Cade McNown to Chicago with the next choice.
But the quarterbacks had to share top billing with the New Orleans Saints, who did just what coach Mike Ditka has been trying to do all along: get running back Ricky Williams, the Heisman Trophy winner.
Ditka's largesse also helped out the Washington Redskins.
He made his move when Indianapolis used the fourth overall pick to take Miami running back Edgerrin James instead of Williams. Ditka traded all his picks this year and his first and third next year to Washington, a total of eight in all. It set up the rest of the draft and it certainly set up the Redskins.
But Ditka didn't blink.
After the deal for Williams was struck, he emerged from the Saints' war room, pumped both fists in the air, fired up a big cigar and shouted: "The power of prayer did it."
"He's supposed to come here," Ditka said. "I love the kid, everything about him. It's what we need. I think he's going to show people he's the best college football player coming out. He gives us what Walter Payton gave Chicago."
None of that would have happened had not the Colts taken James over Williams, who was disappointed not to be the first running back taken.
That opened the way for the Redskins to deal with the Saints and allowed the 'Skins to turn around and trade some of those picks to the Bears to for the seventh choice and the player they wanted all along -- cornerback Champ Bailey of Georgia.
Colts president Bill Polian said it "basically was a tie" between James and Williams, although James was better at catching the football. That's important in the Colts' offense, particularly without Marshall Faulk, who had 86 catches last season but was traded to the Rams on Thursday.
This was also a socially significant draft.
Of the first five quarterbacks taken, three are black -- McNabb, Smith and Culpepper. That equals the entire number of black quarterbacks ever taken in the first round -- Doug Williams in 1978, Andre Ware in 1990 and Steve McNair in 1995.
"It's about time," Smith said.
"We have maybe five or six African-American quarterbacks that will be going in the draft today or tomorrow. Because of people like Doug Williams who have paved the way it now becomes a burden on us to pave the way for the next generation."
The Browns' pick was preordained after the new team signed the Kentucky junior before the draft. So was Philadelphia's of McNabb, the Syracuse quarterback, although Eagles fans wanted Williams -- a group seated together in the gallery booed and shouted "We want Ricky!" when the team selected McNabb.
That made it the second straight year that QBs had gone 1-2 -- last year it was Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. Smith made it the first time since 1971 that quarterbacks had gone in the first three picks: Jim Plunkett was No. 1; Peyton's dad Archie, No. 2, and Dan Pastorini No. 3.
Then came the shocker of James over Williams.
"Everyone felt at No. 4, Indianapolis was going to take a running back. Everyone assumed it was Ricky Williams," said Washington general manager Charley Casserly, who now has three first-rounders next year.
"We were wrong. So we moved back two spots, got a No. 1 next year and the player we were going to take at No. 5. When we put that all together, it's a pretty good deal for us."
There were few surprises after that.
St. Louis used No. 6 on Torry Holt, the North Carolina State wide receiver. Washington, using some of the Saints' picks to get up Chicago's spot at No. 7, took Bailey.
Ohio State wide receiver David Boston went next to Arizona, followed by Southern Cal linebacker Chris Claiborne to Detroit; Arizona cornerback Chris McAlister to Baltimore; Culpepper to Minnesota and McNown to Chicago.
Then it was Louisiana Tech wide receiver Troy Edwards to Pittsburgh, offensive tackle John Tait of Brigham Young to Kansas City, and defensive tackle Anthony McFarland to Tampa Bay. That pick, No. 15, is the lowest the first defensive lineman has gone since 1983.
Tennessee then took Florida linebacker Jevon Kearse; New England exchanged places with Seattle and chose center Damien Woody of Boston College, and Oakland took offensive tackle Matt Stinchcomb of Georgia.
Then another surprise -- the New York Giants took offensive tackle Luke Petitgout of Notre Dame, projected as a secondrounder but perhaps a good choice for the Giants, who have gotten stars like Michael Strahan and Jason Sehorn No. 2, but have had a series of first-round duds.
Dallas traded up two picks to take Ebenezer Ekuban, a defensive end from North Carolina, to bolster a defensive line weakened by free-agent defections and the potential suspension of Leon Lett. Arizona used its second firstrounder on offensive tackle L.J. Shelton of Eastern Michigan.
Seattle took defensive end Lamar King of Saginaw Valley State, the first Division II player chosen, then Buffalo took cornerback Antoine Winfield of Ohio State.
San Francisco, needing defensive line help with Bryant Young still recovering from a severely broken leg, moved up to take defensive tackle Reggie McGrew of Florida; Green Bay chose safety Antwan Edwards of Clemson;
Jacksonville chose cornerback Fernando Bryant of Alabama; Detroit traded up to take Aaron Gibson, the 376-pound offensive tackle from Wisconsin, and New England chose Andy Katzenmoyer, the linebacker from Ohio State who has dropped rapidly since being projected as a topfive pick after his freshman season.
Minnesota chose Dimitrius Underwood, a defensive end from Michigan State; Atlanta took defensive end Patrick Kerney of Virginia, and Denver used the final pick of the first round on linebacker Al Wilson of Tennessee.
In addition to the five quarterbacks, there were six offensive and six defensive linemen chosen, five defensive backs, four linebackers, three wide receivers and the two running backs, James and Williams.
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