New Orleans, with the No. 2 pick, pounced on Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush. The Southern California tailback was projected as the top selection, but the Texans made the surprising and bold move for the defensive disrupter Williams, signing him to a deal worth $26.5 million guaranteed the night before.
Tennessee chose Texas quarterback Vince Young at No. 3 as the heir to Steve McNair. The Titans are in messy negotiations with McNair, who was told to stay away from team headquarters until talks to reduce his salary cap number are resolved.
Though the suspense was already gone by the time the No. 1 pick was announced, and with the crowd booing and chanting "overrated," Williams proudly hugged commissioner Paul Tagliabue after his name was called at Radio City Music Hall, home to the famed Rockettes.
"I think if people had just listened to what we had said, they would have seen that we were serious about Mario Williams," Texans general manager Charley Casserly said Friday in Houston. "Once we brought him in here our statements never changed that we were seriously considering him for the first pick in the draft and I understand that people didn't believe it, but we always said it and we believed it."
Williams, who has been described as a cross between Julius Peppers and Lawrence Taylor, saw his stock soar after his amazing performance at the NFL combine in February. The 6-foot-6 ½, 292-pound Williams ran the 40-yard dash in 4.73 seconds and had 35 reps on the 225-pound bench press.
He becomes the first defensive end taken No. 1 overall since Courtney Brown went to the Cleveland Browns in 2000, and the 12th defensive lineman to be picked at the top of the draft. The Texans, who haven't had a winning season in their four-year existence, got the first pick after going 2-14 this past season.
Throughout the college football season, Bush dazzled with his with his electrifying moves and stunning speed and seemed to be a shoo-in to become the first running back taken No. 1 since Ki-Jana Carter went to the Bengals in 1995.
Now Bush will bring his act to New Orleans, teaming with newly signed free-agent quarterback Drew Brees and running back Deuce McAllister, who is rehabilitating a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.
Bush has had more on his mind than the draft after questions were raised 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.
"I've got enough controversy going on in my life right now," Bush said Thursday, "but I'm sure it will all be worked out in a matter of weeks and that all the answers will be the right ones."
Bush's parents received $100,000 in cash from investors in a sports marketing company that hoped to sign the running back, an attorney for the investors said in a letter obtained by The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Attorney Brian Watkins told the newspaper on Friday that Bush's parents, LaMar and Denise Griffin, asked for the money partly to resolve financial problems. Watkins said the money included an initial payment of about $30,000 to help start up the New Era Sports and Entertainment agency.
Watkins said the money was disbursed throughout 2005 and was given on more than one occasion at the home of Lloyd Lake, an investor in the company and a documented gang member. Watkins described him as a longtime friend of the Heisman Trophy winner.
The 6-foot, 200-pound Bush, who wore San Diego's 619 area code painted underneath his eyes during USC games, had 1,740 yards rushing and 2,890 all-purpose yards this past season for the Trojans as a junior. He decided to leave school early to enter the draft after USC lost to Texas in the national championship game.
Bush averaged 8.9 yards per carry this season, caught 37 passes for 478 yards and led the nation in all-purpose yards with 222.3 per game. Bush shared the tailback position for three years with LenDale White, and the two combined for 99 career touchdowns to break the NCAA record of 97 set by Army's Glenn Davis and Felix "Doc" Blanchard from 1943-46.
White is expected to go later in the draft.
Tennessee picked Young over USC quarterback Matt Leinart, who won the 2004 Heisman while playing for Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow at USC. But general manager Floyd Reese was said to prefer Young, a younger, faster version of McNair.
Young passed for 267 yards, ran for 200 more and scrambled 8 yards on fourth down with 19 seconds left for the winning touchdown in a 41-38 win over Leinart and USC in the Rose Bowl. Though he has terrific running ability and a great arm, many are unsure how he will fit into a pro-style offense.