BY DAN GRAZIANO
NEW YORK—It started early, before the first pick was even announced. High up in the balcony at Radio City Music Hall, mixed in among the legions of Jets fans, Giants fans and fans of other random teams who’d made the pilgrimage to the NFL Draft, a group of guys stood up and started chanting, “JER-SEY FOOT-BALL!”
And what a day it was for New Jersey football. Of the 32 picks in the first round of this year’s draft, seven were from the Garden State.
“Pretty special,” said USC linebacker and Park Ridge native Brian Cushing, selected with the 15th pick by the Houston Texans. “Hopefully people will start respecting the state. We put out some pretty good players.”The Jersey run started at No. 8, when the Jacksonville Jaguars took Plainfield’s Eugene Monroe, the left tackle from the University of Virginia. The Green Bay Packers picked Washington Township’s B.J. Raji (DT, Boston College) with the very next pick. And three picks later, Belford’s Knowshon Moreno (RB, Georgia) went to the Denver Broncos at No. 12.
“We talked about it, the couple of us that have been in town all week,” Moreno said. “It’s Jersey pride, baby. I think people have started to recruit more in the state the last five years or so because they’re starting to realize you don’t have to play in warm weather to be a good football player.”
Former Piscataway star Malcolm Jenkins (CB, Ohio State) was then selected by the Saints at No. 14, followed by Cushing at 15. Then there was a bit of a Jersey lull until Atlantic Highlands’ Donald Brown (RB, Connecticut) got picked at No. 27 by the Indianapolis Colts.
The Giants, picking at No. 29, passed on Bayonne’s Kenny Britt, the Rutgers receiver many had thought would be a good fit for Tom Coughlin’s team. But the Tennessee Titans nabbed Britt with the 30th overall pick, making him the first Rutgers first-rounder ever and giving New Jersey seven picks in this year’s first round.
“It is kind of amazing, when you think about it,” Monroe said. “You always see the top guys and they’re from Texas or California. Florida, places like that. But maybe New Jersey’s coming. Maybe it’s time to say New Jersey’s a football powerhouse.”
There haven’t been too many days when that wouldn’t have sounded silly. But Saturday was one of them at the NFL Draft.
NEW JERSEY'S NFL DRAFT
No. 8, Jaguars, Eugene Monroe, OT, Virginia, Plainfield
No. 9, Packers, B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College, Westwood
No. 12, Broncos, Knowshon Moreno, RB, Georgia, Middletown
No. 14, Saints, Malcolm Jenkins, CB, Ohio St., Piscataway
No. 15, Texans, Brian Cushing, OLB, USC, Bergen Catholic
No. 27, Colts, Donald Brown, RB, Connecticut, Red Bank Catholic
No. 30, Titans, Kenny Britt, WR, Rutgers, Bayonne
No. 65, Jets, Shonn Greene, RB, Iowa, Winslow Township
No. 161, Dolphins, John Nalbone, TE, Monmouth, Lawrenceville
No. 178, Seahawks, Mike Teel, QB, Rutgers, Don Bosco Prep
No. 203, Titans, Jason McCourty, CB, Rutgers, St. Joseph Regional
NO. 245, Seahawks, Courtney Greene, SS, Rutgers, New Rochelle (N.Y.)
No. 253, Jaguars, Tiquan Underwood, WR, Rutgers, Notre Dame