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NFL DRAFT / DAY ONE

McNown, Claiborne Go High

Locals: Quarterback is picked by Bears at No. 12, after linebacker is taken by Lions in No. 9 slot.

April 18, 1999|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

On a day when Los Angeles was well represented in the NFL draft and the Pacific 10 Conference had four of the top 12 players selected, USC linebacker Chris Claiborne held his standing as a projected top-10 pick and went to the Detroit Lions at No. 9 and the rising stock of UCLA quarterback Cade McNown took him all the way to the Chicago Bears at No. 12.

Trojan cornerback Daylon McCutcheon, expected by many to go in the second round, lasted until the first pick of the third, when the new Cleveland Browns selected him 62nd. But the biggest area fall belonged to Bruin tackle Kris Farris, who left school after his junior season thinking of being a first-round choice but instead lasted until midway through the third, to the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 74 overall.

With UCLA safety Larry Atkins being picked at No. 84 by the Kansas City Chiefs, the two local schools accounted for five of the 11 selections from the Pac-10. Two of the other five were among the first 10--Oregon quarterback Akili Smith to Cincinnati at No. 3 and Arizona defensive back Chris McAlister to Baltimore at No. 10--but the bulk of the Saturday total didn't come until the end.

Claiborne, the Butkus Award winner as the nation's top linebacker and the Pac-10 defensive player of the year, became the sixth Trojan in the last seven years to be picked in the top 10. He follows Curtis Conway (seventh, 1993), Willie McGinest (fourth, '94), Tony Boselli (second, '95), Keyshawn Johnson (first, '96) and Darrell Russell (second, '97).

"I'm extremely happy," Claiborne said among the 40 friends and family members who came to his draft party at a Los Angeles hotel. "I figure I'll settle in more once I jump on a plane and go there [Detroit]. But right now, I'm just so happy. I can't really describe it."

McNown carried on UCLA's impressive recent draft standing, coming after Jamir Miller (10th in 1994), J.J. Stokes (10th in '95) and Jonathan Ogden (fourth in '96). Though the fifth quarterback selected, the rise to No. 12 was nonetheless a great moment for McNown, who was knocked for questionable size and arm strength but continually impressed in postseason workouts.

"To have things work out the way they did, I couldn't have pictured it, written it any better," McNown, the Pac-10 career leader in total offense, said after arriving in Chicago later Saturday. "Going from a young Bruin to a Bear is really an exciting thing."

College teammate Farris, meanwhile, went the opposite direction. Knocks on his lack of strength overshadowed his standing as the Outland Trophy winner, and he was measured at 6-7 1/2, impressive but hardly the mountainous listing of 6-9 that UCLA offered.

In the end, he was the 16th offensive lineman picked.

The third Bruin taken, Atkins played both safety spots as a senior, in the process being named second-team All-America and first-team all-conference, but knee surgery as the result of an injury suffered late in the second quarter of the Rose Bowl loss to Wisconsin might have been a concern to some teams.

Atlanta's selection of Arizona State running back Jeff Paulk at No. 92 ended the third-round run of Pac-10 players--after McCutcheon at No. 62, Arizona State center Grey Ruegamer at No. 72, Farris at No. 74, California defensive back Marquis Smith at No. 76, Washington quarterback Brock Huard at No. 77 and Atkins at No. 84.

The Pac-10 didn't produce a second-round selection-- a surprise to McCutcheon as much as anyone. The four-year starter and all-conference choice, and son of former Ram standout running back Lawrence McCutcheon, thought he would go in the second round and had outside hopes for the first. But even lasting until the third still meant a day of celebration.

"I'm real happy," he said. "At first, I was kind of disappointed. But I want to go to a situation where I can contribute. Obviously, the teams that picked before that didn't think I fit right into their plans. But I talked to a lot of people in Cleveland--the general manager, the coach, some of the assistants--and they seem really exited about me coming, so that's a situation I'm glad to be in."

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