Jason DeCrow Associated Press Quarterback Geno Smith from West Virginia gestures after the New York Jets selected him 39th overall. After being bypassed in the first round, Smith considered not returning to the green room.

Te'o, QB Smith finally picked

Published: Saturday, Apr. 27, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3C
Last Modified: Sunday, Apr. 28, 2013 - 11:53 am

NEW YORK – It seemed fitting that Aaron Rodgers was rewarded with a lavish contract extension that could make him the highest-paid football player in history – for five years and $110 million, according to multiple reports – just minutes before the second round of the NFL draft began Friday night.

In 2005, Rodgers became the unintentional symbol for agonizing draft day delays. Once thought to be a possibility for No. 1 overall, he plummeted to the 24th pick. But in his wildly successful time as the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, Rodgers also has become the face of the soft landing.

As the second round began this year, the question was when the big names – players who stewed through the first round Thursday night as Rodgers once had – would finally get a chance at their prize, too.

It did not take long to get the answers. The San Diego Chargers, perennially underachieving, moved up in the second round to select Notre Dame middle linebacker Manti Te'o with the 38th pick overall. Te'o, respected for his toughness and leadership, had been widely projected as a first-round prospect during the college football season.

But a dismal performance in the national championship game, and his entanglement in a bizarre hoax involving a fake dead girlfriend, sullied his image.

Te'o has claimed ignorance of the hoax, but there is little question it will follow him to California. The girlfriend-who-never-was was supposed to be from Southern California, and it was clear from the music chosen to play at Radio City Music Hall after Te'o's selection that everyone was not quite finished having fun with his weird world. The disc jockey played "It Takes Two" by Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock.

In his conference call with San Diego reporters, Te'o gave a hint of the lingering damage done by the hoax. He admitted that when he saw the California area code pop up on his cellphone – it was the Chargers calling to tell him he had been selected – he thought some of his friends were trying to play a prank on him again.

"I did expect to go in the first round," Te'o said. "But things happened, and all it did was give me more motivation."

In the third round, the Chargers took Keenan Allen, Cal's all-time-leading wide receiver, with the 76th pick overall.

Te'o was the most high-profile college football player last season, but his tumble was emblematic of a draft class with such significant flaws that many analysts believe it is one of the worst in years.

Much of that doubt was because of a quarterback class with no obvious superstars. Just one – project EJ Manuel of Florida State – was selected in the first round Thursday, the fewest quarterbacks taken in a first round since 2001. Geno Smith of West Virginia will be the quarterback remembered from this class because he sat in the green room all night Thursday, then deliberated whether to return to the room at all Friday.

"I watched that draft, and I watched Aaron go through that," Smith said. "It was kind of ironic that you see that, and then you're put in that position. It was just a test of patience. I'm a patient guy."

It was a good thing he returned to Radio City. Right after the Chargers took Te'o, Smith finally got the call for which he, and many television cameras, had waited more than 24 hours. It came from the New York Jets, a team that had seemed set not to take a quarterback because they owe Mark Sanchez $8.25 million and are rebuilding.

That choice sets up a brutal conundrum. The Jets are setting themselves up for either a potentially poisonous quarterback competition or the possibility of releasing Sanchez outright, taking an enormous salary cap hit and putting the team in the hands of a place-holder quarterback, David Garrard, until Smith is ready to take over.

Smith said all the right things in the moments after he was selected, even as the Jets fans in attendance seemed stunned that he was the pick. He vowed to try to win the starting job. He said the Jets would go to the playoffs. He said it was an honor to join a storied franchise.

At least Smith knew where he was going. After Friday's second and third rounds concluded, many quarterbacks remained available, including Syracuse's Ryan Nassib, who had seemed a possible first-round pick, and USC's Matt Barkley, who might have been a first-round pick if he had come out last year.

In the third round, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took North Carolina State quarterback Mike Glennon, just the third quarterback off the board.

Few big-name prospects had as troubling a route to the NFL as Tyrann Mathieu, the Honey Badger, whose exploits ignited YouTube. He was an electrifying defensive back and kick returner for LSU, but he was kicked off the team for failed drug tests. He went to drug rehabilitation and admitted to teams that he had failed many drug tests while he was in school.

During the scouting combine, he was contrite about his struggles and vowed to give teams reason to trust him. Even in the days before the draft, though, his judgment was questioned when his name was part of an advertisement for a party after the first round of the draft. When the Arizona Cardinals finally plucked him in the third round, Mathieu was shown on camera in tears. They will play him at free safety.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Read more articles by Judy Battista



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