At the Top, Not as Easy as 1, 2, 3
Russell, Johnson Go First; Quinn Feels the Wait
NEW YORK, April 28 — The NFL draft began predictably enough, with the Oakland Raiders using the top choice on quarterback JaMarcus Russell and the Detroit Lions taking wide receiver Calvin Johnson second. But not everyone fell precisely into their expected places after that, with a series of small surprises being accompanied by the stunning drop of Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn through the first-round order.
Quinn, after being considered by the Raiders as a candidate for the first pick, spent an agonizing few hours backstage at Radio City Music Hall before finally being selected by the Cleveland Browns with the 22nd choice. The Browns traded back up into the first round to get Quinn and, after choosing Wisconsin left tackle Joe Thomas with the draft’s third pick, emerged with two players who widely had been considered among the best half-dozen available.
“What can you do?” Quinn said soon after his ordeal finally ended. “I had to sit back and wait. . . . I’m learning life lessons like patience, I guess.”
Some talent evaluators regarded Quinn as a more NFL-ready quarterback than Russell after being coached by Charlie Weis, formerly the offensive mastermind of the New England Patriots, at Notre Dame. But Quinn wasn’t chosen until about four hours after Russell. The Raiders had kept everyone in the league guessing until a couple hours before the draft began Saturday, when it became clear that Russell would be the top pick.
Russell, who played at Louisiana State, showed up wearing Raiderslike garb — a black suit with a black shirt and black tie. But he said later, “It’s just a coincidence.”
The Raiders had negotiated during the week with the representatives for Russell, Quinn and Johnson but didn’t sign Russell before the draft began, as NFL rules permit the team with the top choice to do. Russell said he didn’t hear from the Raiders on Friday and didn’t know he was their pick until just before the selection became official when it was announced by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Now he must try to turn around a team that went 2-14 last season and was particularly feeble on offense. The Raiders emerged with the quarterback with the stronger arm and, by most accounts, the greater potential.
“I kind of had faith in it,” Russell said. “Everybody’s been talking about it for a while. It’s a dream come true.”
The Lions used a top 10 choice on a wide receiver for the fourth time in five years. Johnson, who played at Georgia Tech, follows Charles Rogers, Roy Williams and Mike Williams. Among the other three, only Roy Williams has become a standout NFL player. But the Lions felt they couldn’t pass on a player as gifted as Johnson, who said he was undaunted by the club’s recent history with first-round wideouts.
“It may not have worked out in a couple cases,” Johnson said. “But I’m sure in my situation, it will. ... There’s no disappointment [not being picked first by the Raiders], going into the situation that we’re going into. I don’t think anybody knew exactly what was going to happen except for the Raiders. . . . I think this is the best thing for me.”
Quinn and Oklahoma tailback Adrian Peterson were regarded as candidates for the lowly Browns with the third pick. Quinn is a Dublin, Ohio, native who attended his first Browns game when he was 7, watching them beat the rival Pittsburgh Steelers. But the Browns went with Thomas, who had declined the league’s invitation to attend the draft in order to take a fishing trip with his father.
Quinn soon would end up wishing that he were elsewhere, too. The quarterback-deficient Minnesota Vikings passed on him at No. 7 to take Peterson. Quinn later said he thought he wouldn’t slip past the Miami Dolphins at No. 9, but they went with Ohio State wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. A run of teams that didn’t need quarterbacks came next, and Quinn knew he was in free-fall. He accepted Goodell’s offer to move himself, his family members and his agents to a private room so their agonizing wait would not be captured by television cameras in the backstage common area.
The Baltimore Ravens called and said they were going to pick him, Quinn said. Then he got another call and clicked over, and was told by the Browns that they’d moved into position to select him. The Browns traded a second-round choice Saturday and their first-round pick next year to the Dallas Cowboys to get the selection that yielded Quinn, a bold move for a sagging franchise. The success of the deal might determine how long General Manager Phil Savage and Coach Romeo Crennel keep their jobs.
Quinn exhaled and pointed skyward in relief when he finally took the stage and was congratulated by Goodell. He’d been booed by the crowd of about 3,000 spectators when he’d been introduced before the draft. He was cheered when he was chosen.
“I felt like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders,” he said.
Quinn was forced to relive the draft-day misery of Aaron Rodgers, the California quarterback who was considered for the top pick by the San Francisco 49ers two years ago but lost out to Alex Smith and fell to the Green Bay Packers with the 24th choice. Quinn, like Rodgers, lost millions of dollars on his rookie contract, but he took that in stride.
“People kept saying I was losing money, [but] I was sitting back there with my wallet,” he said. “I have, like, a dollar in cash, and it’s still in there. I didn’t lose any money.”
But while Rodgers got stuck behind Brett Favre in Green Bay, Quinn at least will have a chance to play quickly in Cleveland, and with the added incentive of trying to prove something to the teams that passed him up Saturday.
“Who knew it was going to work out like this?” he said. “That’s the draft. . . . You place that chip on your shoulder and you remember how this day went.”
Quarterback Brady Quinn lets out a deep breath after finally being selected with the 22nd pick by the Browns.