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 for a chance to replace Brett Favre as the New York Jets’ starting quarterback.
The Lions found the centerpiece for one of the biggest rebuilding jobs in league history by taking Georgia’s Stafford with the top overall selection Saturday. Detroit already had signed Stafford to a six-year deal with $41.7 million in guarantees and a maximum value of $78 million.
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Stafford, who left school one year early, isn’t expected to immediately start as a rookie.
“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 Jets rocked Radio City Music Hall by trading with the Cleveland Browns — 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 USC.
“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, the selections of Stafford and Sanchez drew plenty of boos and chants of “OVERRATED” to go with the many cheers.
The Lions, whose poor draft history this decade under former general manager Matt Millen eventually led to the winless season, have veteran Daunte Culpepper as their projected starting quarterback next season under new coach Jim Schwartz. That should give Stafford a chance to watch and learn.
“Now, it’s up to us to develop him and get good players around him,” new Lions GM Martin Mayhew said.
The Lions drafted tight end Brandon Pettigrew of Oklahoma State with the 20th overall pick, which they acquired from the Cowboys last year in the trade that sent wide receiver Roy Williams to Dallas.
Nine of the last 12 top overall picks have been quarterbacks. They have included the likes of Peyton and Eli Manning. And Tim Couch, David Carr and Alex Smith.
The massive trade in which the Browns sent the No. 5 pick to the Jets prompted wild cheering in Radio City Music Hall. When the Jets chose Sanchez, the fans had equally vociferous positive and negative reactions.
Sanchez started for only one season at USC, leading the Trojans to a 12-1 record and a Rose Bowl victory.
“With Mark, I think he’s a special guy,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said.
The Jets sent the No. 17 and No. 52 overall choices, plus defensive end Kenyon Coleman, safety Abram Elam and quarterback Brett Ratliff, to the Browns for the right to select Sanchez.
Cleveland pulled off two more trades to keep moving down in the first round and adding later-round picks. At No. 21, the Browns finally stopped dealing and took California center Alex Mack.
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 accustomed to playing for a weak team: Baylor was 18-31 in Smith’s four years there.
The Kansas City Chiefs, like the Rams, used nearly all 10 of their 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 the Lions about being the top overall pick, landed with the Seattle Seahawks at No. 4. Curry is considered capable of playing inside or outside in the pros.
The Cincinnati Bengals went for Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith, the first AP All-American selected, at No. 6. Smith had some issues, including leaving the NFL Scouting Combine early without notifying anyone, but the Bengals were unswayed.
Another offensive tackle, Virginia’s Eugene Monroe, went eighth overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars, one spot after the Oakland Raiders were seduced by the speed of Maryland wide receiver 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 the Green Bay Packers and Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree, the highest-rated wide receiver before the draft, to the San Francisco 49ers rounded out the top 10.
Other noteworthy picks in the opening round included Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno, 12th to the Denver Broncos; USC linebackers Brian Cushing (15th to the Houston Texans) and Clay Matthews (26th to the Packers, who traded up); Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman (17th to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers); Connecticut RB Donald Brown No. 27 to the Indianapolis Colts; and WR Kenny Britt No. 30 to the Tennessee Titans.
In all, 19 offensive players and 13 on defense went in the first round, and 15 underclassmen were chosen. Eight players from the Southeastern Conference were selected. USC had the most first-round selections of any school with three.