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NFL DRAFT : Conventional Wisdom Gets Sacked

Pro football: After Jets take Johnson with top pick, surprise becomes the order of the day. Phillips falls to Rams at No. 6.

April 21, 1996|BILL PLASCHKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

To properly understand the spinning ride that was the first hours of the NFL draft is to understand this:

The selection of Keyshawn Johnson as the No. 1 pick was the most conservative thing that happened.

His floor-length beige coat and all.

The conclusion of an exhaustive, detailed six-month talent evaluation by 30 major corporations began Saturday morning when the New York Jets, as expected, made the bejeweled USC wide receiver their top pick.

Then it was as if somebody yelled, "Food fight."

Off came the stopwatches and up came the gut instincts, resulting in a chaotic string of picks that featured:

--Kevin Hardy, Illinois linebacker, being drafted second by the Jacksonville Jaguars ahead of his more noted defensive end mate, Simeon Rice.

Upon which Hardy was promptly ripped by Coach Tom Coughlin.

"He's got to improve his quickness and some of his technique," Coughlin said.

--Rice being taken next by the Arizona Cardinals, even though they have established defensive ends Michael Bankston and Clyde Simmons.

Not that he was surprised, Rice said. But he had never spoken to anyone in the Cardinal organization.

--Jonathan Ogden, UCLA tackle, being picked fourth by the Baltimore Ravens even though they have outstanding tackles Orlando Brown and Tony Jones.

Coach Ted Marchibroda welcomed him to Baltimore, then promptly told him he would be moved to guard.

It was the first time in the draft's 61-year history that a USC and UCLA player had been taken in the first five picks.

--Cedric Jones of Oklahoma, the fourth-ranking defensive end on most scouting reports, being taken fifth overall by the New York Giants after they were stunned by the disappearance of Rice and Hardy.

Jet fans at the league's New York draft headquarters had been chanting "Key-shawn" through the morning.

Giant fans interrupted them after this pick with a collective, "Whaaaaat?"

--Lawrence Phillips, the embattled Nebraska running back considered the best player on many draft lists, falling all the way past New York, past Arizona, past Baltimore, and down to the St. Louis Rams in the sixth spot.

This Rams pick was soon followed by, not surprisingly, a trade of disappointing running back Jerome Bettis to the Pittsburgh Steelers for more draft picks.

Only three years ago, Bettis was the 10th overall pick by the Rams and the star of the draft. But he has scored only four touchdowns in his last 23 games, hastening his departure.

Enter another walking controversy. Phillips has been plagued by a history of off-field trouble involving his anger. He was suspended during part of the past season after pleading no-contest to a charge of misdemeanor assault and trespassing after allegedly beating up his ex-girlfriend.

The Jets and Cardinals could have used him. The Colts previously said they would take him. That he fell to the Rams has him angrier than ever.

"I feel I'd have been the first pick if I had no problems, definitely," Phillips said.

He later added, "With my past, I guess teams who didn't pick me had a reason to be fearful. But I'm going to prove to everyone that I'm a good person. That a lot of people missed a good thing."

After those six picks, the New England Patriots shut up quarterback Drew Bledsoe by bringing him his first true deep threat, Ohio State receiver Terry Glenn.

From there, the draft essentially proceeded as expected.

Keyshawn Johnson ran his mouth. Jimmy Johnson showed his ego. And Jerry Jones fled.

The Oakland Raiders jumped after a great athlete. The Buffalo Bills grabbed a strange one. And the San Diego Chargers used their first pick--the 11th selection of the second round--to turn heads.

Besides Johnson and Ogden, USC tackle John Michels sneaked surprisingly into the first round when the Green Bay Packers made him the 27th overall pick. He could eventually replace another USC tackle, Ken Ruettgers.

The draft will conclude with four rounds today. At which time Johnson will be back in Los Angeles, preparing for his coming-out party at Hollywood's House of Blues.

The good news for Johnson fans is, he didn't use his post-draft forum to compare himself to Michael Irvin, Jerry Rice, or Herman Moore.

The bad news is, he compared himself to all three.

"I hope to be like Jerry-Michael-Herman, all three of them put together," Johnson said. "That's going to be something special."

When asked about playing for a last-place team, Johnson displayed an interesting understanding of history, if not hyperbole.

"The Dallas Cowboys went 1-17, then turned around and won nine Super Bowls in a row," Johnson said. "NFL teams are up and down."

Jimmy Johnson showed his ego in a different way with the 20th pick in the first round, by drafting Daryl Gardener, a 6-foot-6, 320-pound Baylor defensive tackle with a reputation for being a fat guy with poor work habits.

It was Johnson's first major personnel move since taking over the Dolphins this spring after working in television during his two-year exile from the Cowboys.

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