Four quarterbacks coached by Jeff Tedford have been drafted in the first round but haven't lived up to expectations. Could California's Aaron Rodgers be the fifth?
BY DAVID J. NEAL
How can a college coach possibly be an albatross when he has coached four quarterbacks snapped up in the NFL draft's first round?
When those first-round picks have been second-rate NFL quarterbacks.
Maybe that's not fair to University of California coach Jeff Tedford. Tedford definitely thinks it isn't fair to top NFL draft prospect and former Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers. But in the inexact business of scouting, any undisputed trends are hard to ignore.
Trent Dilfer (drafted 1994), Akili Smith (1999), Joey Harrington (2002) and Kyle Boller (2003) all were coached by Tedford for at least their senior years in college. All were taken in the first round of the NFL draft. Only Boller was taken outside the top 10.
None has distinguished himself as an A-list NFL quarterback.
Dilfer has survived for 11 seasons by being more an offensive caretaker than playmaker. The official definition of Smith's first name is ''wisdom,'' but in NFL circles it means ``gigantic flop.''
In Detroit, the Lions might ax Harrington before a June roster bonus is due. Boller showed progress in Baltimore in his second season, but it's still far from a certainty that he'll be a top-notch quarterback.
''I think Akili Smith is the only one who didn't even come close to his potential for whatever reason,'' Tedford said.
Tedford can't put his finger on anything he did that NFL teams haven't done because he says he doesn't know what they're asking his former quarterbacks to do. He does believe judgments on Harrington and Boller are premature.
''Somebody told me once 50 percent of the quarterbacks drafted in the first round or maybe less are not successful,'' Tedford said. ``It just happens that we've been fortunate to have a lot of them, so it's kind of magnified. The jury is out on some of them.''
Baltimore coach Brian Billick said, ``I can't speak for the other guys, but all Kyle's done is win games for us. He's won games in tough circumstances. Our job is we have to get more talent around Kyle.''
Billick has been around more than a few good quarterbacks during career stops at Brigham Young University, and, in the NFL, San Francisco and Minnesota. His Super Bowl championship with Baltimore came with Dilfer at quarterback.
''[Tedford] has a real feel for quarterback play,'' Billick said. ``He has a feel for orientating his offenses around the skills of the quarterback. He's had as good a run of quarterbacks as anybody. Typically, you will see that type of run with one kind of quarterback. But he's had a wide variety.''
Other Tedford products include the Dolphins' A.J. Feeley, who started eight games under Tedford at Oregon before Philadelphia took him in the fifth round in 2001, and Tennessee's Billy Volek.
Volek preceded Houston's David Carr as Fresno State starter, then signed with the Titans as an undrafted free agent in 2000. He took over the starting job last year when injuries battered Steve McNair to the sidelines.
''A.J. Feeley or Billy Volek doesn't get mentioned as much because they were either free agents or fifth-round or sixth-round draft picks,'' Tedford said. ``The expectation hadn't been on them to be superstars. But when you're a first-round draft pick and a top five pick . . . there's tremendous expectation.''
CASE OF RODGERS
Also, any team in a position and willing to take a quarterback high in the draft likely is rebuilding. Certainly, if San Francisco decides to keep Rodgers in the Bay Area with the No. 1 overall pick, he'll be working with a talent-impoverished offense.
Along with a fine deep ball and good footwork, Rodgers makes few mental mistakes. The same national championship Southern California defense that throttled Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl was riddled by Rodgers for 23 consecutive completions.
''Not only is he a great competitor, he's very intelligent,'' Tedford said. ``Very skilled and a great leader. All those other guys [Tedford coached] had the same attributes. I would say Aaron is more mature at his age than those other guys for coming out after his junior year.''
Next week, we'll find out for sure how much difference the NFL sees.