NEW YORK — The Big 12, led by Oklahoma, kicked off a big party for itself at Radio City Music Hall in the first prime-time NFL draft Thursday night.
Tim Tebow had a grand time, too, breaking into the first round at No. 25 to Denver. The selection of the Florida quarterback, the mystery man of this draft, drew the loudest reaction — a mix of cheers and boos — from the audience.
Starting with quarterback Sam Bradford going to the St. Louis Rams, five of the top six picks were from the Big 12 — three of them Sooners.
The Oklahoma junior became the eighth quarterback since 2001 taken atop the draft. He was immediately followed Thursday night by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska, the AP Player of the Year; DT Gerald McCoy and OT Trent Williams, Bradford's teammates with the Sooners.
"That's pretty cool because I know the Big 12 has been getting a lot of slack lately," Bradford said. "People for some reason didn't think that we played much football in the Big 12 and sure didn't think we played much defense, so for two defensive tackles to go in the first three picks is a credit to the Big 12."
And what about the Sooners' run at the top of the festivities?
"It's insane isn't it?" McCoy said with a huge smile. "We can't play football in the Big 12, but the first four picks went out of the Big 12? Mmmmm — three of 'em from Oklahoma, by the way."
Bradford appeared in only three games in 2009, his junior year, before undergoing right shoulder surgery.
Detroit then chose Suh, considered the best defensive tackle prospect in more than a decade. He won the Lombardi, Bednarik and Nagurski trophies in 2009.
"He's not just a one-year wonder. He's strong. He's good versus the run. He's good versus the pass. He's very intelligent," Lions Coach Jim Schwartz said.
McCoy should boost a Tampa defense that once was feared but flopped last season when it yielded 400 points. He displayed his Buccaneers jersey to the crowd and pumped his fist high in the air as "Pirates of the Caribbean" played on the loudspeakers.
The Big 12 bonanza kept rolling when Washington took Williams, an All-American, to fill a huge hole at tackle left by the retirement of Chris Samuels..
Tennessee safety Eric Berry, also an All-American, went fifth to Kansas City, breaking the Big 12 stranglehold.
Then it was back to the Big 12 for Oklahoma State OT Russell Okung, who went to Seattle, where perennial Pro Bowl blocker Walter Jones might retire.
Florida cornerback Joe Haden was chosen by Cleveland, followed by Alabama inside linebacker Rolando McClain to Oakland. Both were All-Americans last season.
That gave the Southeastern Conference three picks in the first eight, showing how highly the NFL regarded that conference.
Clemson running back C.J. Spiller went ninth to Buffalo, prompting plenty of "Oh, no" responses from Giants fans in the packed theater. McClain and Spiller were considered main targets for the Giants.
The surprises and the swaps then began.
Jacksonville took California DT Tyson Alualu, projected as a second-rounder by many. San Francisco then moved up two spots, dealing for Denver's pick to get Rutgers OT Anthony Davis. San Diego, desperate for a running back after cutting LaDainian Tomlinson, jumped from 28th overall to 12th in a trade with Miami. The Chargers took Fresno State's Ryan Mathews, the nation's leading rusher at 150.7 yards per game.
The Broncos then sent the 13th overall choice they got from the 49ers to Philadelphia, which grabbed Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham.
That made four trades involving three consecutive picks.
Seattle added Texas safety Earl Thomas to Okung. Jason Pierre-Paul, who played just one season at South Florida after two years at a junior college, went to the Giants — a choice that generally drew cheers from the blue-clad New York fans in the crowd.
Georgia Tech DE Derrick Morgan went to the Titans, the 49ers added Idaho guard Mike Iupati to Davis in a strong effort to solidify their offensive line, and Pittsburgh went for center Maurkice Pouncey of Florida.
Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon went to Atlanta, followed by Alabama cornerback Kareem Jackson to Houston and tight end Jermaine Gresham of, — guess where — Oklahoma, who was selected by Cincinnati.