The Associated Press
NEW YORK -- The cincinati Begals took 30 seconds to select Dan Wilkinson, the 313-pound Ohio State defensive tackle known as "Big Daddy," with the No. 1 pick in an NFL draft dominated by underclassmen and defensive players.
Everone else needed a lot longer yesterday to make crucial decisions for their future.
It was a day in which teams went for players they hope can play now Ä the first draft of the free-agent salary-cap era, when cheaper players are needed to fill in for high-priced veterans teams can no longer afford.
Or as an elated Mike Holmgren said after his Green Bay Packers grabbed Aaron Taylor, projected as the draft's best offensive lineman, with the 16th pick: "We expect him to play and play now. It should make our offensive team better right away."
Despite the emphasis on players immediately ready for prime time, it was a day for youth.
Eleven of the 29 players selected in the first round were underclassmen, led by Wilkinson. The biggest doubt about Wilkinson is how quickly the traditionally tight-fisted Bengals can sign him.
It was also a first round that was top-heavy on defense, although Minnesota unloaded a defensive star Ä end Chris Doleman, in large measure because of his big salary. They traded him to Atlanta for a first-round pick next year and a pick that allowed the Vikings to take David Palmer, the wide receiver from Alabama.
Before a run of three straight offensive linemen in the middle of the draft, the only offensive players chosen were running back Marshall Faulk by Indianapolis (second overall) and quarterbacks Heath Shuler (third) and Trent Dilfer (sixth) by Washington and Tampa Bay, respectively.
That pushed such players as Taylor and Colorado wide receiver Charles Johnson, both of whom were supposed to go high, into the middle of the first round.
Wilkinson, who played only two years of college football, is being hailed as the next Reggie White or Cortez Kennedy Ä an inside bull who can stop the run and rush the passer.
"It feels good to get compliments from people who know the game," Wilkinson said. "I felt like a boxer going into a fight. Except that I already knew I won."
Faulk, San Diego State's swift running back, went to Indianapolis with the second pick and then Washington chose Shuler, who played at Tennessee, over Dilfer as the heir apparent to the released Mark Rypien.
Nine of the next 10 selections were defensive players.
New England took the first senior, defensive end Willie McGinest; the Colts dealt with the Rams and used their second first-round pick on Nebraska linebacker Trev Alberts; then Tampa Bay chose Dilfer, another junior, even though they already have a young quarterback in Craig Erickson.
After San Francisco traded up to take Notre Dame defensive tackle Bryant Young, Seattle went for another defensive lineman, Sam Adams of Texas A&M. Cleveland took Alabama cornerback Antonio Langham, the Arizona Cardinals took linebacker Jamir Miller of UCLA, another underclassman, and Chicago went for Alcorn State linebacker John Thierry.
The New York Jets flip-flopped with New Orleans, giving the Saints a fifth-round pick to move up one spot and take another defensive player, cornerback Aaron Glenn of Texas A&M. The Saints took defensive end Joe Johnson of Louisville, yet another underclassman.
Philadelphia broke the string of defensive players by taking offensive tackle Bernard Williams of Georgia with the 14th pick and the Rams followed with another offensive lineman, Wayne Gandy of Auburn. Green Bay traded up for Miami's pick and took Notre Dame's Taylor, considered before the draft to be the best offensive lineman available.
Like the Packers, the Steelers were surprised by who was there Ä Colorado's Johnson, considered the best wide receiver in the draft.
Minnesota, with the next two picks, then chose cornerback DeWayne Washington of North Carolina State and offensive tackle Todd Steussie of California, and Miami followed with Tim Bowens, a defensive tackle from Mississippi.
Then came three straight suprises -- Michigan State linebacker Rob Frederickson by the Los Angeles Raiders; Arizona State defensive end Shante Carver by Dallas and wide receiver Thomas Lewis of Indiana by the New York Giants.
The came four better known players -- running back Greg Hill of Texas A&M to Kansas City; defensive end Henry Ford of Arkansas to Houston; safety Jeff Burris of Notre Dame to Buffalo; and fullback William Floyd of Florida State to San Francisco.
Cleveland completed the first round, trading with Philadelphia for the pick the Eagles got for losing Reggie White and took wide receiver Derrick Alexander of Michigan.
The Rams, who originally were scheduled to pick fifth, were the first of the active traders in this draft. They almost had a deal with Dallas for Alvin Harper that would have given the Cowboys the fifth overall pick, but Dallas owner Jerry Jones asked the Rams to throw in their second-round pick, too, and they balked and went off in another direction.
First they traded down from fifth to seventh, allowing the Colts to take Alberts. Then they dealt down again, giving San Francisco the pick and the rights to choose Young, a defensive tackle from Notre Dame the 49ers will use to shore up their oversized but underachieving defensive front.
"A couple of things happened to us", Coach Chuck Knox said. "We got tied up in a deal over one player, Alvin Harper. When that fell through and the quarterback we rated highest was already gone, we had a change of heart. Now we have some extra choices."
Wilkinson was chosen by the Bengals despite a request by his agent, Leigh Steinberg, to trade him to a team willing to pay the more than $2 million a year he wants. Steinberg, who has represented five of the last six players taken No. 1, normally has his pick signed before the draft.
But Wilkinson, who grew up in Dayton, about an hour's drive north of Cincinnati, said, "I'm confident we can reach agreement."
And the Bengals apparently never hesitated.
General manager Mike Brown said 21 other teams contacted him about trading up for Wilkinson, but added: "I never came close to trading the pick."
Brown made light of the salary squabble, pretending to place a dollar bill in the hand of a life-size, black-and-white cutout of Wilkinson brought into the media room after they picked him.
"Signing is always a bit of a chore," Brown said. "I have faith we will get it done."
One team that was expected to trade was New England, picking fourth.
But nobody called coach-general manager Bill Parcells with the right deal and he settled for McGinest, whom he might have gotten lower. McGinest is a 255-pound pass rusher Parcells hopes can turn into another Lawrence Taylor.
"He's going to get those comparisons for those reasons Ä same guy drafted him high," said Patriots tackle Pat Harlow, a senior at USC when McGinest was a freshman. "It's kind of hard to compare anyone to Lawrence Taylor."
17 of 29 first-round picks were on defense. Notre Dame and Texas A&M had three players chosen. Read Next Article