On day without trades, slow draft holds to form; Raiders offer lone twist with selection of kicker; fans criticize Jets' picks

THE BALTIMORE SUN

NEW YORK -- In a changing world, Al Davis still refuses to change. He still does things his way.

Twenty-seven years after he selected punter Ray Guy with the 23rd pick of the first round, the maverick owner of the Oakland Raiders stunned the NFL yesterday by selecting kicker Sebastian Janikowski with the 17th pick in this year's draft.

Until Davis gambled on a kicker in what commissioner Paul Tagliabue described as the first draft of the new millennium, this had been a draft with a lot of smoke but no fire.

Even though teams discussed dozens of trades, the teams not only didn't pull the trigger on a first-round trade after the round started for the first time since 1983, they virtually followed the pre-draft form.

It was an all-talk, no-action draft. The teams spent so much time talking on the phone that the first round dragged on for 5 hours and 30 minutes -- 26 minutes longer than last year and only nine minutes shorter than the longest draft in 1995. By contrast, the 1972 draft took two hours. The teams should have been flagged for delay of draft.

The real problem was that with a lack of blue-chip players, teams weren't motivated to trade up because so many players were rated about the same. They were content to wait their turns in a draft that could turn out to be much ado about nothing. It was cheaper to do it that way because players are paid by where they're drafted.

As expected, Penn State defensive players Courtney Brown and LaVar Arrington went 1-2 to Cleveland and Washington.

Although the choice between Brown and Arrington was a tossup, the Browns went for Brown because he's a defensive end, which are harder to find than linebackers.

In the end, it was fitting that the Browns of Paul Brown and Jimmy Brown selected a player named Brown.

If there's a concern about Brown, it is that he has a low-key personality. But he plays with fire on the field.

Coach Chris Palmer said, "I don't think the quarterbacks in the Big Ten think he's a mild-mannered guy on the field."

Brown said, "It feels great. I consider it a blessing and an honor to be the first player picked in the 2000 draft."

Brown and Arrington became only the third set of teammates to be selected 1-2 in the draft.

Nebraska's Irving Fryar and Dean Steinkuhler went 1-2 in 1984, but that wasn't a typical draft because the USFL had scooped up some of the best players. Michigan State did it in 1967 when Bubba Smith and Clint Jones went 1-2.

Brown wrapped up his top status when his agent, Marvin Demoff, agreed to a seven-year deal with a reported $10.5 million signing bonus that voids in the final year.

Last year, quarterback Tim Couch, who was on hand to welcome Brown, got a $12.25 million signing bonus in a seven-year deal.

The Browns argued successfully that quarterbacks get a premium, but gave Brown slightly more in the first three years than Couch got because he has higher base salaries.

The Brown-Arrington selections started the trend of the teams picking the players they were predicted to take.

All that suddenly changed when the Raiders went on the clock. Their selection of Janikow- ski caused the first gasp in the draft room.

Even though Janikowski is rated one of the best kickers to come out of college in recent years, NFL teams usually don't go for kickers on the first round.

It was the first time a kicker has been drafted on the first round since Steve Little and Russell Erxleben were selected by St. Louis and New Orleans in the 1978 and 1979 drafts.

Both flopped, and Little, who died last November of liver disease, spent the last 19 years of his life as a quadriplegic after being injured in an auto accident that followed a drinking binge after the St. Louis Cardinals cut him in 1980. Erxleben, who attended Little's funeral, is facing a possible prison term after pleading guilty to bilking investors in a foreign currency scam.

Since many kickers don't make it until they've been cut once, teams have been leery of taking them on the first round.

On top of that, in a year when NFL teams are stressing character, Janikowski is a risk because he is facing a third-degree felony charge for allegedly trying to give a policeman a $300 bribe not to arrest his roommate. The roommate had been denied service at a club and was arrested after refusing to leave.

Since Janikowski's a native of Poland and not a U.S. citizen, there's even a remote chance he could be deported if he has more problems in the future. He faces a hearing May 5.

But the Raiders need a kicker after losing four division games when they were ahead in the fourth quarter, and Davis is gambling Janikowski will win the close ones for him.

The Raiders, who had the 16th pick in the second round, were worried that the Rams, who had the final pick in the first round, or the Bears, who had the ninth pick in the round, would grab Janikowski if they waited.

"We did a lot of research on this young man," Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. "We feel we have an environment with our players and our coaching staff for this young man to flourish."

There was another surprise on the next pick when the Jets, who had four picks on the first round, selected quarterback Chad Pennington. The pick of Pennington somewhat mollified the Jets' fans, who are still upset that they traded away Keyshawn Johnson for two first-round picks. Pennington gives them a quarterback of the future when Vinny Testaverde retires.

The Jets' fans at draft headquarters weren't happy when the Jets took a pair of defensive players -- Shaun Ellis and John Abraham -- with the 12th and 13th picks. After taking Pennington at 18, they took tight end Anthony Becht with their fourth first-round pick at 27.

Abraham and Becht had the misfortune of being the two players the Jets took with the two picks they got from Tampa Bay for Johnson. If they're busts, the Johnson trade will look even worse than it does now, especially since they didn't get a wide receiver on the first round.

The Giants' fans were even taunting the Jets' fans by shouting, "Keyshawn, Keyshawn, Keyshawn" at the start of the draft.

Al Groh, the beleaguered new Jets head coach who could be doomed before he coaches a game, put the best face on the situation.

"I'm very pleased with what occurred," Groh said. "We hit our target and then some."

Of the two defensive players the Jets took with the first two picks, he said, "We were looking for players who have speed and power. You wanted us to have pass rushers and now we've got them."

Abraham then added to the episode when he said he hoped to make a "positive impact on the New York Giants."

Oops, wrong New York team.

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