By BOB MCGINN Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
GREEN BAY, Wis. - There hasn't been an unmitigated bust at quarterback in the NFL draft since Akili Smith was the third overall selection by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1999.
If the Detroit Lions give up on Joey Harrington (third pick, `02) and the Baltimore Ravens give up on Kyle Boller (19th pick, `03), two more quarterbacks who were handed starting jobs by default will go down as failures.
Smith, Harrington and Boller are linked to Jeff Tedford, just about the hottest coach in the college game. The dilemma for personnel people is what to make of this year's Tedford-tutored quarterback, California's Aaron Rodgers.
Tedford worked wonders with Trent Dilfer (sixth pick, `94) as offensive coordinator at Fresno State from 1993-`97. Then he salvaged the careers of Smith during the first year of his four-year stint (1998-`01) as coordinator at Oregon and Boller during the first season of his ultra-successful three-year tenure at Cal. Harrington spent four years under Tedford at Oregon.
The other quarterback whom Tedford has had drafted was A.J. Feeley (fifth round, `01). He also coached David Carr as a freshman at Fresno State when he played very little.
As much respect as NFL people have for Tedford's ability to develop winning quarterbacks on Saturdays, they have an equal degree of disdain for how his proteges have fared on Sundays.
"They all throw the ball the same way," a personnel director for an AFC team said. "What have those guys done? Nothing."
"They're all so mechanical, so robotic," another scout said. "They're so well-schooled. I think Rodgers is in that same mold."
Rodgers didn't have an offer coming out of high school in Chico, Calif., so he went to nearby Butte (Junior) College in 2002. Tedford discovered him after one season, Rodgers was able to obtain his release and he signed with Cal.
In two Pacific-10 Conference seasons, Rodgers started 21 of 25 games, completed 63.8 percent of his passes for 5,469 yards, 43 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
Recognizing that the crop of senior quarterbacks was weak, Rodgers declared a year early and, incredibly enough, now has a chance to be the first player selected.
"I think he has a good chance of being a bust just like every other Tedford-coached quarterback," an NFC personnel director said. "Thing I struggle with is he gets sacked a lot. Brett Favre can change his release point and find different windows. This guy is very rigid mechanically."
A Journal Sentinel poll this month of 13 personnel people asked each to rank their top five quarterbacks in order, with a first-place vote worth five points, a second-place vote worth four and so on.
Utah's Alex Smith, the other big-name junior, drew 11 firsts compared to two for Rodgers and had 63 points compared to 53 for Rodgers. After that, it was Auburn's Jason Campbell with 25, Akron's Charlie Frye with 17, Georgia's David Greene with 16, Arizona State's Andrew Walter with 13, Purdue's Kyle Orton with seven and Louisville's Stefan LeFors with one.
However, one of the two scouts that put Rodgers No. 1 conceded that he wasn't in the same class of the quarterback group last year that included Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger.
"But if you don't have one, where do you get one?" Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said. "You can say, `Hey, I don't want to take him here, it's too rich.' But if you say, `I can win with the guy,' and I certainly think you can with both of these guys and maybe three or four of them, you've got to take them."
Scouts say Smith probably isn't as ready to play as Rodgers and might not have as strong an arm. However, Smith rates a slight edge on superior height and athletic ability.
"Smith is an exceptional runner, I think he's a leader and he can air it out," Tony Softli, Carolina Panthers director of college scouting, said. "He has all the skills you're looking for."
Are these two quarterbacks worthy of a projected $22 to $25 million in guaranteed money? Or are they at the top of a draft sorely lacking in genuine franchise prospects essentially because of the position that they play?
"Frankly, I don't know," Indianapolis Colts President Bill Polian said. "Am I certain Aaron Rodgers will come in and be the guy to lead my team to the Promised Land? I can't say that. I'm not even sure I can say that about Alex Smith.
"I'd stop after the top three quarterbacks this year. I think it's the Grand Canyon after that."