NEW YORK - Southern California teammates Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart dropped on draft day. Both should rise quickly after it.
The Heisman Trophy winners may turn out to be saviors for their new franchises — in different ways.
Bush, all but guaranteed the top spot for months, instead went No. 2 to New Orleans after Houston decided that North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams would be a better building block for the next decade.
Leinart, who almost surely would have been the No. 1 overall pick last year after winning the Heisman in 2004, dropped all the way to No. 10, where he was taken by Arizona.
“There could be worse things in life, you know?” Leinart said, cracking a smile.
Leinart was the second quarterback taken after the Tennessee Titans decided that the heir to Steve McNair would be national champion Vince Young, taking the Texas quarterback with the third overall pick.
Still, the USC teammates become instant stars on teams that can use some.
Bush will do the one thing in New Orleans that no one in the team’s 39-year history has been able to do: sell tickets. Yes, his explosiveness will also help win games, but even if the Saints continue to lose, fans will show up to watch him, something that could keep the team in the Hurricane-devastated city for the foreseeable future.
“I’m coming in there strong, I’m coming in there to help win some games, and I’m coming in there to help the city get turned around,” Bush said.
Bush also comes in amid questions concerning who paid the rent for a home his parents lived in, and whether an agent was involved, which could violate NCAA rules. He’s adamantly insisted there was no wrongdoing.
Leinart said Titans coordinator Norm Chow — his former offensive mentor at USC — was fighting for him “but it wasn’t his decision.”
It wasn’t, and now Tennessee will find out if the elusiveness and arm strength that Young used to lead the Longhorns can translate to the NFL.
“Last night at 2:30, I was on my knees praying ... he will rewrite the position,” said Floyd Reese, the Titans’ general manager.
“This guy, he led the nation in college as a junior in passing efficiency,” he said. “This guy is special. Now we have to get him special in the NFL, and that’s why it’s going to take a little bit of time. And we realize that. It’s a big jump.”
For Leinart, landing in Arizona under coach Dennis Green puts him on what should be one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses with the newly signed running back Edgerrin James and the outstanding receiver tandem of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. He will start his career in a new stadium behind the brittle Kurt Warner, who two seasons ago caddied for the Giants’ Eli Manning before the No. 1 pick took over at midseason.
If Bush and Leinart slipped a little, some of their highly touted Trojan teammates really took a plunge.
LenDale White, who shared running back duties with Bush, wasn’t picked until the middle of the second round, when he went to Tennessee with the 45th overall pick. He slipped from high in the first round because he didn’t work out at the scouting combine, then showed up at USC’s scouting overweight and with a hamstring injury and did not work out again.
Offensive tackle Winston Justice, considered a first-rounder, also dropped to the second, where he went to Philadelphia. Guard Deuce Lutui will join Leinart in Arizona — he went to the Cardinals at No. 41, about where projected.
Tight end Dominique Byrd (St. Louis) and defensive end Frostee Rucker (Cincinnati) were taken in the third round, giving the Trojans seven players taken in the first three rounds, the most in school history.
The Texans took Williams over Bush because they decided the 6-foot-6½ 292-pound pounder is the kind of defensive impact player who can take a team to a Super Bowl. He had agreed Friday night to a contract that includes $26.5 million in guaranteed money.
As Williams approached the podium against the gilded backdrop of Radio City Music Hall, fans began to boo and chant “overrated!” — a reaction that Texans coach Gary Kubiak believes won’t take long to prove wrong.
“This young man is special, what he brings to the game,” Kubiak said. “He can change a game the way he rushes a passer and the problems he presents for an offensive football team.”
CSN: Brian Urlacher, who played 13 seasons for the Bears, announced his retirement from football Wenesday on his personal twitter account.
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