Note from Blog editor: This is another reason why women shouldn't write about male sports. She actually thinks leinart would go number one, despite the fact that little Matt's throwing arm is ruined.
Although the idea is always seductive, selecting a quarterback in the first round carries certain risks.
By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff WriterPublished April 22, 2005
This is all Matt Leinart's fault.
Had the Southern California quarterback not elected to stay for his senior season, the NFL draft would have a clear-cut No. 1 player, a quarterback worthy of the risk.
Instead, it's a mess.
Teams at the top of the picking order are beating their playbooks against the wall trying to weigh a desperate need for the NFL's rarest commodity, a franchise quarterback, against the potential long-term damage if the pick goes kaput.
Most cannot resist.
Quarterbacks have been selected No. 1 overall for the past four years and six of the past seven. This year's prospects are Utah's Alex Smith and Cal's Aaron Rodgers, and while no one is calling them can't-miss quarterbacks, one could be the next Troy Aikman. The 49ers, who have the No. 1 pick Saturday, need a quarterback, but if he turns out to be a bust, it could take years to recover.
"Any time you're up at the top of the draft, you're in shark-infested waters because there's certainly no guarantee," said Browns first-year general manager Phil Savage, whose team has the No. 3 pick. "Quarterbacks are well-documented. It seems for every hit there's a big-time miss."
For every Donovan McNabb, an Akili Smith. For every Peyton Manning, a Ryan Leaf.
The list goes on.
"The history of drafting quarterbacks in the first round is a 30 percent hit," said first-year Dolphins coach Nick Saban, whose team has the No. 2 selection. "I don't know what the odds are on a craps table in Las Vegas, but I know about that one."
Evaluating quarterbacks is tricky business. According to Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi, who orchestrated last year's draft-day trade that brought No. 1-pick Eli Manning from the Chargers to the Giants, this is no science.
"You like the big guy who can throw, has a quick release and decent feet," Accorsi said. "But ultimately, it's got to be an instinct that you have for him that he's got - you can call it anything you want, intangible, magic - but he's got to have some quality that you feel.
"The quarterback position is so different. Athleticism is important, but to me the magic is more important. I drafted (Bernie) Kosar; he's almost a reject as far as an athlete, but he had something about him and was very successful."
Among this year's crop, experts agree Smith and Rodgers, both of whom are college juniors, have NFL-worthy physical tools. Experts disagree about who rates higher.
Smith, who turns 21 on May 7, is taller at 6 feet 4, 217 pounds, but does not have a laser-like arm and did not run a pro-style offense at Utah, where coach Urban Meyer put him in the shotgun. Smith is mobile, able to avoid the pass rush and gain yards on the ground. Beyond athletic ability, he considers intelligence his greatest asset.
"If you look at the NFL today, especially the quarterback position, you've got to be smart," said Smith, whose uncle, John L. Smith, is the coach at Michigan State. "You've got to have the intangibles. You can't be just athletic. ... It's mental as much as anything else. I think I'll be able to adjust very, very quickly to the NFL, especially mentally."
Rodgers, who grew up in California a 49ers fan, is a tad short (6-2, 223), but has a strong, accurate arm. He played his freshman season at Butte Junior College, hardly a breeding ground for NFL quarterbacks, but played at Cal for coach Jeff Tedford, who has seen five of his star pupils selected in the first round the past 11 years.
Ironically, Rodgers' association with Tedford also is a strike against him. Among the highly regarded quarterbacks to matriculate in Tedford's pro-style West Coast offense - Trent Dilfer, Akili Smith, David Carr, Joey Harrington and Kyle Boller - none has risen to NFL stardom.
"I'm not any of those guys," said Rodgers, 21, who wore a tattered Joe Montana T-shirt under his Cal jersey. "I'm a different guy, so I'm not too worried about that. I think my numbers speak for themselves. I did something not a lot of people expected me to do. I came in from a (junior college) and comprehended his offense in one year and mastered it in two years."
In two seasons with the Bears, Rodgers completed 63.8 percent of his passes with 43 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Last season, he tied an NCAA single-game record with 23 consecutive completions in a loss to eventual national champ Southern Cal.
Because the draft lacks a clear No. 1 pick, the first several picks will be difficult to predict. The 49ers and Dolphins, teams with more needs than draft choices, might trade down. Smith and Rodgers might be the first two players chosen, or one might fall to the Bucs at No. 5.
Citing a similar situation when the Bucs drafted Dilfer at No. 6 in 1994, college scouting director Ruston Webster said Tampa Bay will be ready for anything.
"I think the biggest thing you need to do is if you've can't trade up or trade down, you have to be prepared for whoever drops to you," Webster said. "All of those guys who may be considered to go ahead of us, we are preparing like they are going to be there. You don't know what's going to happen."