Texans’ Surprise Pick Is a Rush Job

Times Staff Writer

North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams was plenty disruptive when it came to hounding college quarterbacks, but that’s nothing compared with how he shook up the NFL draft.

In a stunning move Friday, less than 24 hours before they were officially on the draft clock, the Houston Texans signed Williams as their No. 1 pick. That meant they passed on USC’s Reggie Bush, the Heisman Trophy-winning running back long expected to be the first player chosen.

The Texans said the controversy surrounding Bush -- who is under scrutiny, along with his family, for an allegedly improper relationship with a fledgling sports-marketing company -- had nothing to do with their decision to pick Williams.


“Absolutely not,” said Charley Casserly, Texan general manager. “We believe in Reggie Bush as a person. We asked him and his attorney [about] the different allegations and both of them denied [the allegations]. Both of them said that Reggie didn’t do anything wrong, so we obviously took him at his word, which is what we should do. But none of that had anything to do with that. We told them this was strictly a football decision. We wanted to get a defensive end.”

Suddenly, the New Orleans Saints, owners of the second pick, could have more enticing options -- such as staying in that spot and drafting an electrifying playmaker to complement running back Deuce McAllister, or possibly trading down with a team that had previously written off a chance to select Bush.

That also could affect former Trojan quarterback Matt Leinart, because the New York Jets, who might have selected him with the fourth pick, now are likely to weigh the merits of trading up with the Saints to take Bush. The Jets are also eyeing Virginia’s D’Brickashaw Ferguson, an offensive tackle some draft experts once projected to go second to New Orleans.

Then there’s the possibility of Leinart going third to Tennessee, where he would play under his onetime offensive coordinator, Norm Chow, and Jeff Fisher, the Titan head coach who played at USC. Tennessee has looked closely at the top three passers in recent months -- Leinart, Texas’ Vince Young and Vanderbilt’s Jay Cutler -- and at various times indicated it was leaning toward each of the three.

It all adds to the intrigue of what promises to be one of the most interesting first rounds in years.

The event was moved this year from the Jacob Javits Center to Radio City Music Hall, which somehow fits the stage-worthy developments of the last few days.


For one player, at least, the drama is over. Williams, who signed a six-year, $54-million deal with almost $26.5 million in guaranteed money, can now ease back and watch the theatrics unfold.

Asked about the relief and importance of getting a deal done early, Casserly said: “It’s huge because what it does is it gets it behind you and it’s not a distraction when it comes July for the player or the team. The player now is totally focused on him becoming the best player he can be.”

Here’s one observer’s mock-draft first round:

1. Houston -- Mario Williams, DE, North Carolina State: At 6 feet 7, 295 pounds, the sun-blotting Williams collected 55 1/2 tackles for losses for the Wolfpack.

2. New Orleans -- Reggie Bush, RB, USC: Did the Texans nix Bush, or did Williams simply jump quicker at the money they were offering? Either way, the Saints are doing back flips. It will take a lot to persuade them to trade down now.

3. Tennessee -- Vince Young, QB, Texas: Matt Leinart seems a more logical fit, especially with the USC ties of Jeff Fisher and Norm Chow. But every indication is the Titans are leaning toward Young.

4. New York Jets -- D’Brickashaw Ferguson, OT, Virginia: Again, Leinart could be Manhattan Matt, yet a dominating tackle could be a safer pick for a nuts-and-bolts Bill Belichick protege.


5. Green Bay -- A.J. Hawk, LB, Ohio State: A lot of scouts look at Hawk and Bush as the two closest things to sure-fire picks in this draft.

6. San Francisco -- Vernon Davis, TE, Maryland: The Niners can’t draft Alex Smith No. 1 then deny him any top-notch targets.

7. Oakland -- Matt Leinart, QB, USC: The Raiders love Young and might even trade up to get him, but Leinart would be a steal this late if the Titans and Jets pass on him.

8. Buffalo -- Winston Justice, OT, USC: Like a lot of teams, the Bills need a good tackle, and Justice’s outstanding pro day shot him up the charts.

9. Detroit -- Michael Huff, S, Texas: Not another first-round receiver this year. The Lions finally think defense and pick a thinking man’s safety.

10. Arizona -- Ernie Sims, LB, Florida State: Cardinals don’t have the luxury to draft Cutler. They need instant production if Dennis Green is to save his job.


11. St. Louis -- Brodrick Bunkley, DT, Florida State: This guy lived in the offensive backfield last season with a school-record 25 tackles for losses.

12. Cleveland -- Haloti Ngata, DT, Oregon: Gigantic Ngata could be a very nice fit in the Browns’ 3-4 defensive scheme.

13. Baltimore -- Jay Cutler, QB, Vanderbilt: The Ravens would love to get Young -- or Justice, for that matter -- but it’s unlikely either will be around after the first 10 picks.

14. Philadelphia -- Chad Greenway, LB, Iowa: If Justice isn’t on the board, Eagles might part with tradition and take a linebacker in the first round.

15. Denver -- DeAngelo Williams, RB, Memphis: If the Broncos have turned no-name players into 1,000-yard backs, what could they do with a budding star?

16. Miami -- Jimmy Williams, CB, Virginia Tech: The ever-suspicious Nick Saban has said the Dolphins are looking to improve their defensive front seven and secondary. Isn’t that all 11 defenders?


17. Minnesota -- Santonio Holmes, WR, Ohio State: Getting a receiver would be nice. But if Cutler falls this far, Vikings will grab him. They might even trade up for him.

18. Dallas -- Donte Whitner, S, Ohio State: The Cowboys like safety Jason Allen too but have questions about the condition of his hip.

19. San Diego -- Antonio Cromartie, CB, Florida State: Chargers have only three corners on their roster, and this playmaker could be a big help.

20. Kansas City -- Jason Allen, S, Tennessee: He can play corner or safety. He sat out most of the 2005 season, though, because of a dislocated hip.

21. New England -- LenDale White, RB, USC: Once a potential top-10 pick, White has slipped because of a hamstring injury and questions about his weight. He knows how to find the end zone, though.

22. San Francisco -- Manny Lawson, LB, North Carolina State: Lawson could be a big help for a team looking to fill the void left by departed outside linebackers Julian Peterson and Andre Carter.


23. Tampa Bay -- Kamerion Wimbley, DE, Florida State: At 6-4, 248, Wimbley is lean and speedy. He could be a very good fit in the Buccaneers’ ultra-aggressive Cover 2 defense.

24. Cincinnati -- Bobby Carpenter, LB, Ohio State: The son of former NFL running back Rob Carpenter was part of a Buckeye group widely considered the best in college football in 2005.

25. New York Giants -- Laurence Maroney, RB, Minnesota: A good-sized back in the mold of Shaun Alexander, Maroney rushed for more than 1,000 yards in three college seasons.

26. Chicago -- Marcedes Lewis, TE, UCLA: He could go earlier -- Tampa Bay is among the interested teams -- but Chicago might be the best fit for the Bruin bruiser who stands nearly 6-7.

27. Carolina -- Jonathan Joseph, CB, South Carolina: If they can’t land USC’s White, the player they really covet, the Panthers could always use help in the secondary. Joseph is loaded with talent, but he’s a project with essentially one season of Division I experience.

28. Jacksonville -- Leonard Pope, TE, Georgia: Pope is widely considered a first-round talent, and the Jaguars have gotten just about all they can out of Kyle Brady, who has been in the league since 1995.


29. New York Jets -- Nick Mangold, C, Ohio State: One of the best offensive linemen in the draft, Mangold could learn behind Kevin Mawae before lumbering into the fray.

30. Indianapolis -- DeMeco Ryans, LB, Alabama: The speedy Ryans is a good fit for the Colt system and, as an Academic All-American selection, he’s proven he’s a quick study.

31. Seattle -- Kelly Jennings, CB, Miami: The Seahawks were vulnerable on the boundaries last season, especially late in the year. A good corner could help in that department.

32. Pittsburgh -- Joseph Addai, RB, Louisiana State: With the retirement of Jerome Bettis, the Steelers need to bulk up at running back either through the draft or free agency.

If White were available here, Pittsburgh would happily take him.



Pro stocked

College teammates who were selected in the top 10 picks of the NFL draft since 1982 (pick number in parentheses):

*--* Year Players School 2005 (5) Sean Taylor, (6) Kellen Winslow Miami 2002 (4) Mike Williams, (5) Quentin Jammer Texas 2000 (1) Courtney Brown, ( 2) LaVar Arrington Penn State 1997 (1) Orlando Pace, (3) Shawn Springs Ohio State (4) Peter Boulware, (6) Walter Jones Florida State 1996 (2) Kevin Hardy, (3) Simeon Rice Illinois (7) Terry Glenn, (9) Rickey Dudley Ohio State 1995 (1) Ki-Jana Carter, (5) Kerry Collins, (9) Kyle Penn State Brady 1993 (2) Rick Mirer, (10) Jerome Bettis Notre Dame (5) John Copeland, (6) Eric Curry Alabama 1992 (8) Bob Whitfield, (9) Tommy Vardell Stanford 1991 (3) Bruce Pickens, (4) Mike Croel Nebraska (7) Charles McRae, (8) Antone Davis Tennessee 1990 (5) Junior Seau, (6) Mark Carrier USC 1989 (5) Deion Sanders, (9) Sammie Smith Florida State 1987 (1) Vin.Testaverde, (3) Alonzo Highsmith, (9) Miami Jerome Brown 1985 (2) Bill Fralic, (4) Chris Doleman Pittsburgh (5) Duane Bickett, (7) Ken Ruettgers USC 1984 (1) Irving Fryar, (2) Dean Steinkuhler Nebraska 1983 (3) Curt Warner, (7) Todd Blackledge Penn State 1982 (3) Chip Banks, (10) Marcus Allen USC