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; and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and offensive tackle Trent Williams, Bradford's teammates with the Sooners.
"You have no idea how excited I am just to have the opportunity to come to St. Louis and play my NFL career there," Bradford said in a conference call. "It's just a blessing and I can't wait to get there and get to work."
Bradford, the 2008 winner of the Heisman Trophy appeared in three games in 2009, his junior year, before undergoing right shoulder surgery. His recovery has been so complete that the Rams, who went 1-15 last season and scored a league-low 175 points, didn't hesitate to make him the future face of the franchise.
The selection of the Florida quarterback drew the loudest reaction -- a mix of cheers and boos -- from the audience. Denver gave up picks in the second, third and fourth rounds.
"I want to be a great quarterback," Tebow said. " ... For the next few years, my mindset is going to be to repay [Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels] for what he did for me, believing in me. Just like it was when I was at Florida. My biggest joy was doing things for Coach [Urban] Meyer, winning championships, being able to help him."
Tebow was the third Florida player chosen -- and by far the most controversial selection. A winner for four years with the Gators, including two national championships, his unorthodox style and strange throwing motion made for widely divided opinions on him.
Although it's highly unlikely he'll be the starting quarterback in five months' time, Tebow will begin his NFL career Sept. 12 in his hometown of Jacksonville when the Broncos play the Jaguars in their season opener.
In the end, nine first-rounders and five of the top six picks came from the Big 12.
"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."
Nebraska's Suh went to the Detroit Lions with the second pick and was greeted by "SUH, SUH," as he walked onto the stage holding a Lions jersey.
The Heisman Trophy finalist becomes the first defensive tackle to be drafted among the top two picks in the NFL draft since Oakland took Darrell Russell in 1997.
The 6-foot-4, 307-pound Suh was the first defensive player to win the AP player of the year award since its inception in 1998. He had 4½ sacks against Texas in the Big 12 title game and finished with 12 sacks for the season.
"He made it an easy pick for us," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "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."
Detroit has a lot of needs after becoming the first team in NFL history to lose 30 games in two seasons.
The 6-foot-4, 295-pound McCoy wept after his selection by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the third pick.
McCoy should boost a Tampa defense that once was feared but flopped last season when it yielded 400 points last season. 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.
McCoy's selection marked the first time in the common draft that the top three picks were all from the same conference.
The Big 12 bonanza kept rolling when Washington took Williams, an All-America, to fill a huge hole at tackle left by the retirement of Chris Samuels. Williams engulfed commissioner Roger Goodell in a hefty bear hug onstage.
"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 the Big 12? Mmmmm -- three of 'em from Oklahoma, by the way."
Tennessee safety Eric Berry, also an All-American, went fifth to Kansas City, breaking the Big 12 stranglehold. Berry, noted for his versatility, also has the potential to play cornerback.
Then it was back to the Big 12 for Oklahoma State offensive tackle Russell Okung, who went to Seattle, where perennial Pro Bowl blocker Walter Jones is expected to announce his retirement on Thursday.
That also gave the Southeastern Conference three picks in the first eight, showing how highly the NFL regarded those two conferences.
Clemson's C.J. Spiller went to the Buffalo Bills with the ninth pick, becoming the first running back taken in the draft and prompting plenty of "Oh, no" responses from Giants fans in the packed theater. McClain and Spiller were considered main targets for the Giants.
The ACC player of the year, Spiller scored 51 touchdowns and set or tied 31 school records in four seasons at Clemson. He's listed at 5-foot-11 and 196 pounds.
The Bills overlooked needs at offensive line and quarterback in selecting Spiller. His arrival leaves in question the future of Marshawn Lynch, the subject of trade speculation this offseason.
Jacksonville took California defensive tackle Tyson Alualu, projected as a second-rounder by many, Jaguars with the 10th pick, a surprising move for a franchise that desperately needed a big-name player to boost sagging ticket sales. The Jaguars blacked out nine of 10 home games last season because they could not sell out the games.
The Broncos traded down two picks in the draft, swapping the No. 11 selection with San Francisco for the 49ers' No. 13 pick. The Broncos also received a fourth-round pick (No. 113 overall) from the 49ers in the trade, the first draft-day deal.
The 49ers used the 11th pick to select Rutgers offensive tackle Anthony Davis.
The Broncos then sent the 13th overall choice they got from the 49ers to Philadelphia, which grabbed Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham.
The Dallas Cowboys traded up for the 24th pick to select Bryant. After playing in Oklahoma State's first three games in 2009, Bryant was ruled ineligible for the rest of the 2009 season on Oct. 7 for lying to the NCAA about his activities with former NFL receiver Deion Sanders.
"I'm not disappointed at all," said Bryant, who grew up two hours away in East Texas. "Me falling to the Cowboys, that's the best thing that could ever happen to me. I'm so happy. I'm excited. I'm ready to go to work."
Bryant was considered by many the best receiver in this draft, an All-American in 2008 when he turned 87 receptions into 1,480 yards and 19 touchdowns.
The Chargers moved up from 28th overall to 12th in a trade with Miami to select Fresno State running back Ryan Mathews. Mathews, the nation's leading rusher at 150.7 yards a game, is expected to replace LaDainian Tomlinson, who was released in February after nine brilliant seasons in which he became one of the greatest running backs in NFL history.
The Seahawks selected Texas safety Earl Thomas with the 14th overall pick. The second move by new coach Pete Carroll and new general manager John Schneider targeted the biggest need on Seattle's defense. The Seahawks had two safeties on the roster present for last week's minicamp.
Jason Pierre-Paul, who played 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.
Despite the Steelers fielding phone calls from other teams about Roethlisberger's availability over the past couple of days, it is extremely unlikely a trade will occur, sources told ESPN.com's John Clayton on Thursday.
Iowa offensive guard Bryan Bulaga was taken by the Green Bay Packers with the No. 23 pick, Tennessee defensive tackle Dan Williams went to the Cardinals with the 26th pick and Rutgers cornerback Devin McCourty went to the Patriots at No. 27.
Miami selected Penn State defensive tackle Jared Odrick with the 28th pick, which they received from the Chargers. The Dolphins moved down 16 spots in the first round to acquire a second-round choice and reserve inside linebacker Tim Dobbins from the Chargers.
TCU linebacker Jerry Hughes went to the Colts with the 31st pick. Hughes was a consensus All-American and the Mountain West conference player of the year.
St. Louis has the opening pick of the second round Friday night, but there could be plenty of bartering ahead as teams ponder all the talent left, including Texas defensive end/linebacker Sergio Kindle, Southern Cal safety Taylor Mays, Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen and Texas quarterback Colt McCoy.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.