Sunday, April 10, 2005

If you have to pick No. 1, Rodgers is choice

Ira Miller SF Chronicle
Sunday, April 10, 2005
Aaron Rodgers appears to have the edge in leadership, arm strength and preparation for an NFL-style offense. Alex Smith has more size, may be the better athlete and -- scouts love this word -- is said to have a bigger "upside."
Rodgers has a certain air of confidence about him, a good thing for a quarterback who will be drafted by a bad team.
Smith is considered more cerebral.
In six of the last seven years, the first player chosen in the NFL Draft was a quarterback. That trend is new. Over more than three previous decades, a quarterback was selected with the top pick only eight times. It is happening more now, some believe, because player movement from team to team in the free-agency era makes it more critical than ever to establish stability at the most important position.
Only the 49ers can determine at this point if a quarterback will be chosen first again, as most in the NFL expect, but if that's the case, a consensus is beginning to emerge. Cal's Rodgers is given the edge over Utah's Smith, based on interviews with either the head coach, offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach, general manager or a top scout from 18 NFL teams.
The consensus is based on Rodgers' arm strength and his experience in a pro-style offense at Cal; Smith played primarily in the shotgun at Utah and, while most in the NFL believe he'll make the transition, there will be a period of adjustment.
"There's less projection involved with (Rodgers)," the quarterbacks coach of an NFC team said. "You just have to project so many scenarios and skills with (Smith) because you don't see it on the game tape, where you see Rodgers performing more familiar tasks that are required in this league."
Smith is considered by most the better athlete and some even believe he has a brighter future than Rodgers. There is some wariness because of the perceived lack of success by other quarterbacks developed by Cal coach Jeff Tedford (see related story). Rodgers has earned a few more points than Smith for intangibles, leadership and the confidence he projects.
Another man who was asked about Rodgers, USC coach Pete Carroll, a former NFL head coach, said Rodgers "seemed to be a natural decision-maker," but described his throwing motion as "mechanical," an assessment Tedford disputes. Nonetheless, Carroll gave Rodgers an overall endorsement; last autumn, on the road, Rodgers completed 23 consecutive passes against Carroll's national championship team.
"I don't see him as being a real resourceful guy that runs around and makes things happen ... so I don't know that he's got a real high end, but I think he's going to be a real solid guy, because he will be so coach-friendly and he'll make good decisions, and you're going to like the way he handles himself," Carroll said.
"He's been coached really well by Jeff and schooled well, and he can check off and audible and he's bright."
Most, but not all, of the NFL people interviewed believe both quarterbacks will be successful. There are a few who believe they are overrated. One NFC general manager perhaps put it best when he said that "Neither one of these guys is a savior," pointing out much would depend on how a coach assembles a team around them and what they are asked to do in the NFL.
That, of course, is an "X" factor, making sure a coach takes best advantage of a quarterback's skills. A perfect example of how not to do it came in Cleveland last year, when the Browns signed Jeff Garcia and tried to put him in a strait-jacket of an offense that limited his ability to improvise plays.
Here's what these experts say:
-- Athleticism
Smith: "He was on the move a lot (in college offense). You saw him doing things where he had to create on the move." ... "The thing he's got to do is develop into a drop-back pocket guy. ... To me, that's the easiest thing to teach." ... "I know Smith has all those rushing yards, but that's because their quarterback is really a rusher in that system in Utah."
Rodgers: "Throws well on the run and has nice movement in the pocket against the rush." ... "I loved his mobility. I think he presents a good 'X' factor from that standpoint; if things don't go right, he's going to create something with his feet." ... "Rodgers is a more explosive athlete."
-- Arm strength
Smith: "When he throws the deep outs, it doesn't get there on a line with any velocity, and the deep balls hang." ... "He was extremely accurate, but the throws get a lot tougher at the next level."
Rodgers: "On a scale of 1-to-10, if you rated Smith's arm as seven, then you have to give Rodgers' arm a nine. What (Rodgers) lacks in mobility and athleticism, he makes up with his arm, which obviously is critical."
-- Preparation for the NFL
Smith: "All the shotgun he did (in college) is a negative. His footwork in the pocket isn't as polished, as far as dropping back and pushing out." ... "His level of competition is a question; he didn't play what Aaron had to go against on a weekly basis, and that's always a little bit of an unknown." ... "Any system he comes into is going to be totally different than what he did in college."
Rodgers: "He understands blitz, you can tell he gets the ball out quick, he's got good smarts, but there will be development needed from the mental standpoint of the five- or six-man protection scheme, which he didn't have much." (The coach was referring to routes utilizing four wide receivers, which Utah used more than Cal).
-- Technique
Smith: "He'd have to get a lot of work under the center. Some guys don't make that transition. It's hard to really get a feel for it."
Rodgers: "He has a very quick release and he's very accurate. He's got great command of the offense he's running, and I would think that he'd be more ready to step in and play." ... "I think he struggles to read the safety. Anything that's downfield in the middle of the field, he holds the ball too long and . . . he's real tentative" ... "Rodgers ... gets rid of the ball quicker (than Smith)."
-- Accuracy
Smith: "Smith's not as accurate. The ball sails on him."
Rodgers: "He threw the ball deep in (his) workout as well as I've seen anybody throw the deep ball in a workout. He was extremely accurate."
-- Intangibles
Smith: "He is brilliant, smart. He helped the coaches game plan. He sat in coaching meetings."
Rodgers: "Rodgers has some arrogance to him, which is not all bad, what I call a little athletic arrogance. There's nothing wrong with that. He doesn't always have the most politically correct answers to your questions, but that's OK. He's probably a little bit more mature beyond his years, savvy-wise." ... "If you're a guy that can lose your confidence easily, it's a killer, and I don't think Rodgers is that kind of guy."
-- Overview/comparison
"I don't think either one of them are franchise-type guys, but, in many cases, you go through a year or two without really one (in the draft)."
"You always like to take the bigger guy, but when Rodgers threw those 23 (completions) in a row against Southern Cal and then threw one away, that made up my mind right there. He's not selfish ... He's the more accurate passer and I think he's further ahead, developmental-wise, than Smith."
"You're going to have to make some tough decisions because you're staring at (only) two years of play, not a four-year career, and that makes it pretty tough." (Eli Manning, last year's top pick, threw more passes as a college player than Rodgers and Smith, combined.)
"Those two quarterbacks are over-hyped. (The 49ers) might be forced to take one. That's where you make a mistake. You need a guy, but are those guys the answer?"
"Rodgers has more tools to work with than Smith. Smith needs to get a lot stronger. He's got a slow release. He's not a real physical guy."
"Rodgers was head-and-shoulders above (Smith) as far as physically throwing the ball (in their workouts)."
Top guns
Since the 1966 merger of the NFL and the American Football League created the so-called common draft, quarterbacks have been chosen with the first overall pick 14 times -- including six of the last seven years. Four of the 14 have won a total of 11 Super Bowls. The complete list:

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