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Trade of No. 1 Helps Chargers Land Two Aces

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A day after the San Diego Chargers took a gamble they might hear about for years, luck was with them at least for a day Saturday.

The Chargers watched the Atlanta Falcons make quarterback Michael Vick the No. 1 pick of the NFL draft with the choice they traded away, then came away with two players they coveted: running back LaDainian Tomlinson of Texas Christian and, in a mild surprise, quarterback Drew Brees of Purdue, who takes Vick’s place as quarterback of the future after being selected with the first pick of the second round.

The Chargers got Tomlinson, considered a threat to go as high as third, with the fifth pick, which they received from Atlanta along with the Falcons’ third-round pick this year, second-round pick next year and receiver Tim Dwight.

“As soon as we made the trade, this was the guy we wanted to get,” Coach Mike Riley said.

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The Arizona Cardinals used the second pick to take Leonard Davis, a nearly 6-foot-6, 370-pound offensive tackle from Texas, before the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals followed by taking two of the remarkable nine defensive linemen chosen in the first round.

Then came Tomlinson, a player destined to be remembered as part of the trade that sent Vick to Atlanta.

“I don’t feel any added pressure,” said Tomlinson, who ran for 2,158 yards last season and joins a Charger team that ran for a league-low 1,062 during a 1-15 season.

“I know what it takes to rebuild a team,” Tomlinson said. “My freshman year, we were 1-10.”

The more unexpected development was Brees--third in the Heisman Trophy balloting, just ahead of Tomlinson. Brees fell to the Chargers with the 32nd pick partly because of questions about his 5-foot-11 frame.

“I didn’t think he was going to be there,” Charger General Manager John Butler said. “I really thought he was a first-round talent.”

As the Chargers’ turn approached with Brees still on the board, Butler made a call to try to move up and select Brees. No luck.

But when the Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins, teams in need of quarterback prospects, both passed, the Chargers had their man.

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He’ll cost a lot less than Vick and, after four seasons at Purdue, is considered more game-ready than Vick, who played only two at Virginia Tech.

“I think you make a big mistake if you compare Michael Vick and Drew Brees,” Charger offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. “Michael Vick is the first pick in the draft, and Drew Brees is the first player taken in the second round.

“I think everyone knows what Michael Vick is capable of and where he can go as a player.”

Brees might help the Chargers sooner, though he is expected to do little more than compete for the backup spot behind Doug Flutie this season.

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Riley pointed out that Brees had attempted more than 1,500 passes at Purdue and called him the most ready to play of any quarterback in the draft.

This year’s draft was billed as a receivers’ draft, but it quickly proved to be heavy on defensive linemen.

Gerard Warren went third to the Browns and Justin Smith of Missouri went fourth, to the Bengals.

Four of the first seven players taken were defensive linemen, among them Cal’s Andre Carter, the son of New York Jet assistant and former NFL player Rubin Carter.

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Carter went seventh to the San Francisco 49ers, who moved up two spots in a trade with the Seattle Seahawks.

Seven defensive linemen were among the top 13 picks, with two others going later in the first round.

Six receivers were taken in the first round, well short of the projections of nine by some pundits.

The first receiver drafted was David Terrell of Michigan, taken eighth by the Chicago Bears, followed by Koren Robinson of North Carolina State, picked ninth by the Seahawks.

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Some NFL decision-makers might have been influenced by watching the Baltimore Ravens win the Super Bowl with two huge run-stopping tackles in Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa.

“You are hearing people discuss having big guys on the inside,” said James Harris, the Ravens’ director of pro personnel. “When teams win the Super Bowl and have success, generally other teams tend to want to utilize the same idea.”

Perhaps even more important was a bit of draft wisdom. Draft a receiver in the first round at your own peril.

Green Bay Packer General Manager Ron Wolf, who presided over his final draft Saturday, never has.

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Dan Reeves, Atlanta’s coach and vice president of football operations, traded up for Vick when many expected him to take a receiver at No. 5.

“You look at the history of receivers who have come out and not made a huge impact,” Reeves said. “My philosophy has always been, there are always people there who can help you at wide receiver.”

As NFL.com draft analyst Gil Brandt, a former Dallas Cowboy general manager, put it: “You don’t usually get defensive linemen in the fourth or fifth round. I think you can get wide receivers who will play well for you in the fourth or fifth round, or as free agents.”

Defense was the word on Day One of the draft, which continues today with the final four rounds.

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In the first round, 21 of the 31 picks were defensive players.

The St. Louis Rams, trying to refurbish their defense after their spectacular swoon last season after winning the Super Bowl the season before, took three of them: No. 12 Damione Lewis, a defensive tackle from Miami; No. 20 Adam Archuleta from Arizona State, who will play safety; and No. 29 Ryan Pickett of Ohio State, a defensive tackle.

The Rams also added free-agent cornerback Aeneas Williams in a sign-and-trade deal with the Cardinals before the draft.

The Rams and Chargers probably had the best day of any teams, the Rams because of sheer volume and the Chargers because of disaster averted.

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The one need the Chargers didn’t fill in the first three rounds was for an offensive lineman to block for Tomlinson as he tries to improve a running game that averaged only 66 yards a game.

The Chargers used the third-round pick they received from Atlanta--they didn’t have one of their own--on Tay Cody of Florida State, a big-play cornerback expected to contribute as a nickel back right away.

“You take a look at Florida State, Purdue with Brees, and LaDainian almost helped turn around the program at TCU alone,” Butler said. “We’re looking for winners.”

After a 1-15 season, the draft might be the place to find them.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

TOP PICKS

*--*

1. Atlanta Michael Vick QB 2. Arizona Leonard Davis T 3. Cleveland Gerard Warren DT 4. Cincinnati Justin Smith DE 5. San Diego LaDainian Tomlinson RB

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*--*

* ROUND ONE AT GLANCE: D10

* ROUNDS TWO, THREE: D11

* MIKE PENNER, SOUND & VISION: D11

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JOINS EAGLES: Philadelphia uses 25th pick in first round to select UCLA wide receiver Freddie Mitchell, who left college after junior season. D10


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