It was a surprise to see Tennessee QB Erik Ainge available late in the fifth round and the Jets jumped on the opportunity to get the former Volunteer standout. A loud roar sounded from what had been a relatively docile Sunday crowd at Radio City Music Hall when it was announced the Jets had taken Ainge with the No. 162 overall selection.
"Honestly, it sounds cliché to say that I didn't care what round I got drafted in," Ainge told reporters in a conference call. "Being as competitive as I am, I wanted to be the first pick in the draft — that's just how it works. Round regardless, I couldn't be happier about going to the New York Jets."
Ainge threw for 8,700 yards at UT, trailing only Peyton Manning (11,201) and Casey Clausen (9,707) in school annals. He was a career 60.6 percent passer and totaled 72 touchdowns against only 35 interceptions.
Saving his best for his senior season, Ainge completed 62.6 percent of his passes in 2007. The 6'6", 225-pound signalcaller also tossed 31 touchdowns and was intercepted only 10 times.
"I liked a lot of things about him — his size and his accuracy," said Jets head coach Eric Mangini of Ainge. "I liked meeting him and talking with him. His intelligence, his leadership, his passion for the game — all those things I thought were very positive and very important things to have at that position."
The Jets came back nine selections after Ainge and drafted Kansas WR Marcus Henry in the sixth round. Henry, who began last season with three straight 100-yard receiving games, finished with 1,014 yards. The 6'4", 207-pound target had 54 catches and averaged a healthy 18.8 yards per reception.
"I think I could be a possession kind of guy. In college, I was considered a tall guy who could go up and get jump balls," Henry said. "I think I could bring that into the NFL, develop that more and be that type of receiver."
In the seventh and final round, the Green & White added Arkansas T Nate Garner. Listed at 6'7", 319, he helped open holes in 2007 for a pair of pretty good running backs in Darren McFadden, who rushed for 1,830 yards and was drafted fourth overall by the Oakland Raiders, and Felix Jones, who amassed 1,162 yards on the ground and was selected No. 22 overall by the Dallas Cowboys. Garner started all 13 games for the Hogs' at RT and earned second-team SEC recognition from the league coaches and the Associated Press.
Like Garner, Ainge will also be making the transition from the SEC to the pro level. Ainge, who grew up in Hillsboro, Oregon and played collegiately in Knoxville, TN, is friendly with both Kellen Clemens and Chad Pennington. Clemens starred at Oregon and Ainge indicated today that one of the reasons he didn't choose the Ducks was because he'd have to wait behind KC. Pennington is a Knoxville native and has invited Ainge to appear at his football camp on a number of occasions.
"They do different things better than the other one. I'm going to be writing everything down and learning from them," Ainge said. "That doesn't mean I'm not going to be competing, but at the same time I'm just going to take it all in. I'm really glad that Mr. [Woody] Johnson and [Mike] Tannenbaum have given me the opportunity."