NEW YORK – Matthew Stafford’s mission is daunting: Lead the Detroit Lions back from the only 0-16 season in NFL history. Mark Sanchez has nearly as big a challenge: He’ll compete to replace Brett Favre.
The Lions found the centerpiece for one of the biggest rebuilding jobs in league history, taking Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford with the overall No. 1 pick in the draft Saturday. Detroit already had signed the 21-year-old Stafford to a six-year deal with $41.7 million in guarantees and a maximum value of $78 million.
Stafford, who left school a year early, is not expected to start immediately.
“I’m a competitive guy,” Stafford said. “I’m going to try to get ready as quick as I can.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself to be great anyway.”
Then the New York Jets rocked Radio City Music Hall by trading with Cleveland – and of all people, Eric Mangini, whom they fired as coach in January – for the fifth overall spot. The Jets took the other premier quarterback in the draft, Sanchez of Southern California.
“I learned how to compete and deal with pressure at ’SC and in a large media market in Los Angeles,” Sanchez said of stepping in for the retired Favre, “and things are only going to bigger and better. It’s a very exciting time, a special time in my life, so I’m excited to get things going.”
Oddly, both drew plenty of boos and chants of “OVERRATED” to go with the many cheers.
The Lions, whose poor draft history this decade under Matt Millen eventually led to the winless season, have veteran Daunte Culpepper as the projected starter this year under new coach Jim Schwartz. That should give the 21-year-old Stafford a chance to watch and learn.
“Now, it’s up to us to develop him and get good players around him,” Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew said.
The Lions drafted tight end Brandon Pettigrew of Oklahoma State with the 20th pick overall, which they acquired from Dallas in the trade that sent wide receiver Roy Williams to the Cowboys.
Nine of the last 12 top overall picks have been quarterbacks. They have included the likes of Peyton and Eli Manning, but also Tim Couch, David Carr and Alex Smith.
The massive trade saw Cleveland send its pick to New York, prompting wild cheering in the arena. When the Jets chose Sanchez, the fans had equally vociferous positive and negative reactions.
Sanchez started for just one season at USC, leading the Trojans to a 12-1 record and a Rose Bowl victory. He had 16 career starts in college, and will compete for the job of replacing Favre as the Jets’ QB.
“With Mark, I think he’s a special guy,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said.
New York sent the No. 17 and No. 52 overall choices, plus defensive end Kenyon Coleman, safety Abram Elam and quarterback Brett Ratliff, to Cleveland.
The Browns pulled off two more trades to keep moving down in the opening round and adding later-round picks. At No. 21, the Browns finally stopped dealing and took center Alex Mack of California.
Before that, Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith was the second pick, by the St. Louis Rams. The 6-foot-4, 306-pound former tight end should be used to playing for a weak team: Baylor was 18-31 in his four years there.
Kansas City, like St. Louis, used nearly all 10 of its minutes seeking a trade before selecting LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson. He will join college teammate Glenn Dorsey on the Chiefs’ defensive line.
Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry, who had spoken with Detroit about being the top overall pick, landed in Seattle at No. 4. Curry is considered capable of playing inside or outside in the pros.
Cincinnati went for Alabama tackle Andre Smith, the first AP All-American selected, at No. 6. Smith had some issues that included leaving the NFL combine early without notifying anyone, but the Bengals were unswayed.
Another tackle, Virginia’s Eugene Monroe, went eighth overall to Jacksonville, one spot after Oakland – no surprise here – was seduced by the speed of Maryland’s Darrius Heyward-Bey. The Raiders grabbed the player who had the fast 40-yard time in workouts, even though many projected him to go far later.
Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji to Green Bay and Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree, the highest-rated receiver before the draft, to San Francisco, rounded out the top 10.
Other noteworthy picks in the opening round included Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno, 12th to Denver; Southern California linebackers Brian Cushing (15th to Houston) and Clay Matthews (26th to Green Bay); Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman (17th to Tampa Bay); RB Donald Brown, the nation’s leading rusher with 2.083 yards and the first UConn player selected in the first round, No. 27 to Indianapolis; and WR Kenny Britt (No. 30 to Tennessee), the first Rutgers player to go in the opening round.
West Virginia’s highly productive quarterback, Pat White, who some teams look at as a wide receiver in the pros, was chosen by Miami, where he could fit nicely in their Wildcat formation.
San Francisco acquired a 2010 first-round pick from Carolina by sending its second-rounder, 43rd overall, and its fourth-rounder to the Panthers. Carolina took defensive end Everett Brown of Florida State, who was projected as a first-rounder in mock drafts.
In all, 19 offensive players and 13 on defense went, and 15 underclassmen were chosen. Eight players from the Southeastern Conference were selected. Southern California had three Trojans picked, the most of any school.
The second round concluded with Denver acquiring the 64th spot from Pittsburgh and selecting North Carolina tight end Richard Quinn.
Crabtree said he still felt he was the top receiver. He was asked about chasing the 49ers’ receiving records held by Jerry Rice. He smiled and said: “I got some big shoes to fill when I go to the 49ers, you know, with Jerry Rice. I am looking forward to that. I love challenges.”
Not even Stafford nor Sanchez faces that big a challenge.