The last time the University of Alabama won a national championship, the Crimson Tide had three players selected in the first round of the subsequent NFL Draft.
Thursday night Alabama wasn't able to equal that, but the two tabbed will probably land contracts exceeding whatever they dared hope for.
Middle linebacker Rolando McClain was selected eighth overall by the Oakland Raiders and cornerback Kareem Jackson, who left the Capstone a year early despite not initially being projected as a first-round selection, went 20th to the Houston Texans.
"I wasn't shocked to go this early, but I was shocked about going to Oakland," McClain said. "We weren't even really talking to Oakland, but I'm really happy about the chance to play for the Raiders. This is what I've been working for."
While nose tackle Terrence Cody will have to wait until Friday night, when cornerback Javier Arenas and maybe offensive lineman Mike Johnson will find out their fates during the second and third rounds, McClain and Jackson where in the middle of a surprising first day highlighted by numerous trades. While many draft experts looked for a run on cornerbacks by the mid-second round, it instead came sooner with five already selected.
After picks one through six, beginning with Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford to St. Louis, went as expected, Florida cornerback Joe Haden going seventh to Cleveland seemed to signal a left turn for the draft.
Ten minutes later, McClain to Oakland was the equivalent to a derailment to some, causing a handful of Raiders fans at Radio City Music Hall to boo because the team didn't first address major offensive needs like tackle.
"That's a good pick by the Oakland Raiders," NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock responded. "He's tough, he's a protoype 3-4 linebacker. He's a playmaker. That's a pick that I think will satisfy Oakland Raiders fans because of his productivity."
McClain's addition concluded a complete overhaul at linebacker. Former Auburn standout Quentin Groves was acquired in a trade from Jacksonville, and with Kirk Morrison only offered a tender as a restricted free agent, the Butkus Award winner will probably line up between Kamerion Wimbley at strongside, Trevor Scott at weakside.
"I'm ecstatic to get back into the team atmosphere and build a relationship with some good guys in Oakland," McClain said. "I'm just really excited to get back to playing football. I'm ready to get back on the field and get away from everything else. "
Tackle Eugene Monroe was the eighth-overall pick last year by Jacksonville, and signed a five-year contract worth $35.4 million, of which $19.2 was guaranteed.
A dozen more picks and Jackson was no longer available either.
"This is a dream come true," he told the Houston media over the phone, barely audible with more than 70 family members and friends having gathered to celebrate. "I'm ready to come in and help in any way I can."
Cornerback was considered a real need for the Texas due to the departure of Dunta Robinson. Defensive coordinator Frank Bush told reporters that despite Jackson coming out a year early he'll have a chance to compete for the starting job at right cornerback.
"I'm going to be real feisty out there on that corner," Jackson said. "I'm going to be real physical, so receivers are going to know I'm there."
Jackson will be introduced at a 3 p.m. press conference Friday. He's the third Alabama player to be selected by the Texans in recent memory, joining linebacker DeMeco Ryans (second round, 2006) and offensive lineman Antoine Caldwell (third round, 2008).
A year ago, tight end Brandon Pettigrew at No. 20 signed a five-year, $14.6 million contract, of which $9.4 million was guaranteed.
Both players were in Nick Saban's first draft class at Alabama in 2007.
"I owe about 95 percent of this to Coach Saban," McClain said. "I think without Coach Saban I wouldn't be the player that I am. I don't even know if I would have made it to this point. He made me a more honorable young man. He taught me everything as far as the game of football; taught me how to work. He just taught me everything I know."
McClain and Jackson were the 13th and 14th players from a Saban signing class to be selected in the first round. Michigan State players included wide receiver Plaxico Burress (2000), linebacker Julian Peterson (2000) and running back T.J. Duckett (2002).
Among Saban's LSU signees to go in the first round were wide receiver Michael Clayton (2004), defensive end Marcus Spears (2005), running back Joseph Addai (2006), JaMarcus Russell (2007), safety LaRon Landry (2007) and Glenn Dorsey (2008).
Tackle Andre Smith was the sixth-overall pick by Cincinnati last year, but recruited by Mike Shula.
In the 75-year history of the NFL Draft this was only the seventh time Alabama had at least two first-round picks, most recently in 2000 with Chris Samuels (No. 3, Washington), and Shaun Alexander (No. 19, Seattle). The others were 1948, 1960 (AFL Draft), 1978, 1979, 2000.
Only in 1993 did the Tide have three: John Copeland (No. 5, Cincinnati), Eric Curry (No. 6, Tampa Bay), and George Teague (No. 29, Green Bay), although in 1948 the Tide had three in the first round of the AAFC draft (Harry Gilmer, Vaughn Mancha and Lowell Tew).
Alabama might take aim at that mark next year.
"Rolando McClain is one of the finest football players I have ever had the opportunity to coach," Saban said in a release. "He is also a great leader and an outstanding young man who will be a tremendous asset to the Oakland Raiders organization. The University of Alabama appreciates all he did as a person, student and a football player in his time at the University and I'm sure he will be a wonderful ambassador for our football program in the future. We are pleased and happy for Rolando and his family and we wish him well in all his future endeavors.
"Rolando will always be a part of the Crimson Tide family."