NEW YORK: Manti Te’o and Geno Smith provided the sizzle previously missing from the NFL Draft.
Te’o is headed to the San Diego Chargers, Smith is a New York Jet, and Radio City Music Hall shook with the kind of noise usually heard in stadiums when they were selected.
The theater rocked with two picks within minutes of each other Friday night.
Te’o, the Notre Dame All-American linebacker, was chosen sixth in the second round by the Chargers, drawing a loud roar from the fans. One spot later, the Jets took the West Virginia quarterback, drawing a raucous reaction of cheers and boos.
The big names had taken over from the bulk and beef of opening night, when 18 linemen went in the first round.
Te’o, who led the Fighting Irish to the national championship game, was projected as a first-rounder last year. But his poor performance in a rout at the hands of Alabama, some slow 40-yard dash times, and a tabloid-ready hoax involving a fake girlfriend that became a national soap opera dropped his stock.
“I did expect to go in the first round,” Te’o said. “But things happened and all it did was give me more motivation.”
When former Chargers defensive back Jim Hill was handed the card to make the announcement by Commissioner Roger Goodell, he was told, “You’re going to get a big cheer when you announce this pick.”
It was more a mix of surprise and recognition of the most talked-about player in the draft finally finding a landing spot at No. 38 overall.
The Chargers traded up with Arizona to grab Te’o, the Heisman Trophy runner-up. Te’o ran a 4.82-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, slow for a linebacker. He did better at Notre Dame’s pro day, but NFL teams already had plenty of football reasons to doubt his worthiness as a first-round pick.
The Chargers were willing to gamble on him.
“We did a lot of work on Te’o and I’ve seen him for a number of years,” first-year General Manager Tom Telesco said. “He loves football. He’s passionate about it. He loves to practice. He loves to play.”
Two officials, each with a different team, said their clubs passed on Te’o in the first round partly because of his off-field issues. The men, speaking on condition of anonymity because team draft strategy is confidential, said the decision was not just because of a disappointing combine performance or the linebacker’s poor performance in the national title game.
Te’o was the third linebacker chosen in this draft.
“It’s a perfect scenario. My parents can come and watch, I can go home, it’s San Diego,” said Te’o, a native of Hawaii. “We’re all excited. I can’t be any happier.”
With the next pick, the Jets sent their quarterback situation spiraling into further chaos. They already have Mark Sanchez, who struggled last season but was brought back in great part because of a prohibitive contract. They still have Tim Tebow, who almost certainly soon will be cut. They signed David Garrard, who hasn’t played in the NFL since 2010.
And now there is Smith, who waited futilely throughout the first round, returned to the theater Friday and was rewarded.
“It’s extremely relieving. I withstood the test of time,” he said. “It felt like forever in there.”
If Smith thought that was tough, wait until he enters the cauldron overseen by Jets coach Rex Ryan, where every move by every quarterback on the roster is tabloid-Internet fodder for days.
“I’m a competitor and I’m going to accept my role on the team, whatever is handed to me,” Smith said, “but my job is to compete day in and day out.”
Safety Johnathan Cyprien of Florida International was the first selection of the second round by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Cyprien was a standout in the Sun Belt Conference and really solidified his stock with an excellent performance in the Senior Bowl.
The Arizona Cardinals added some spice to the third round by selecting former LSU cornerback-kick returner Tyrann Mathieu. The Honey Badger was a 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist that LSU dismissed from the team in August for failing a drug test. He was arrested in late October after police said they found marijuana at Mathieu’s apartment.
Other notable second-round picks Friday were Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter by the Tennessee Titans, who traded up with the San Francisco 49ers; Stanford All-American tight end Zach Ertz by the Philadelphia Eagles; and North Carolina’s Gio Bernard, the first running back chosen, by the Cincinnati Bengals.
After no running backs were selected in the first round, five were taken in the second. The number of linemen dropped to five.
The presumed top-rated running back, Eddie Lacy of Alabama, went with the next-to-last selection of the round, to the Green Bay Packers.
NCAA record-setting running back Montee Ball of Wisconsin was chosen by the Denver Broncos.
The Tampa Bay Buccanners’ first pick this year was defensive back Johnthan Banks of Mississippi State at No. 43 overall. The Washington Redskins went for defensive back David Amerson of North Carolina State at No. 51.
Among those who didn’t go were quarterbacks Matt Barkley of Southern California, Landry Jones of Oklahoma and Ryan Nassib of Syracuse; South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, who is recovering from a severe knee injury; and two starters from national champion Alabama, offensive lineman Barrett Jones and defensive tackle Jesse Williams.