QB Should Be 49ers Choice
by Glenn Dickey
Feb 27, 2005

BECAUSE THERE’S no consensus in the NFL on the best player available in this year’s draft, the 49ers may be tempted to trade down from their No. 1 slot. They shouldn’t. They should use that pick to draft a quarterback, probably Utah’s Alex Smith.

It’s usually a mistake to trade down from a very high pick, because that pick gives a team a chance to get a true impact player. Bill Walsh, who became known for his draft wizardry, learned that early in his 49ers career.

In his second draft, 1980, Walsh traded the second pick in the draft to the New York Jets for two first-rounders, who became tight end/fullback Earl Cooper and defensive lineman Jim Stuckey. Both helped the 49ers in their first Super Bowl season, 1981, but not as much as at least two of the players who would have been available at that second pick: offensive tackle Anthony Munoz and wide receiver Art Monk.

The next year, Walsh kept his first-round pick and grabbed Ronnie Lott, one of the decisions which turned the franchise around.

Even trading down in the middle of the first round can be risky. Last year, the 49ers traded their pick at 16th in the first round to the Philadelphia Eagles for a late picks in the first and second rounds.

Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and linebacker D. J. Williams (a particular favorite of coach Dennis Erickson) were both available at the 16th slot. With the two picks they got from the Eagles, the 49ers drafted wide receiver Rashaun Woods and defensive back Shawntae Spencer. It’s still early, but it seems the 49ers would have gotten more help from either Wilfork or Williams than they’ll get from Woods and Spencer.

IT’S ALSO A mistake to pass on a quarterback, if you need one.

The latest cliché in a league which lives on them is that a team doesn’t need a superstar quarterback, only one who can “manage” a game. The trouble with that idea is that the usual example of that kind of quarterback is Tom Brady, who was Joe Montana in an earlier life.

It is possible to win without an outstanding quarterback, but a team has to have a shutdown defense for that formula to work. It’s much easier to start with the quarterback and build around him, as Walsh did with Montana – and as Patriots coach Bill Belichick did when he chose Brady over the more-publicized Drew Bledsoe.

The 49ers need help almost everywhere, but they aren’t even going to get started until they get a quarterback they can build around.

Tim Rattay, last year’s nominal starter, is the reincarnation of Walsh’s first quarterback, Steve DeBerg, of whom Walsh famously said, “He plays just good enough to get beat.” Rattay throws a nice ball but the majority of his interceptions last year came in the fourth quarter. He’d be a good backup, but he shouldn’t be starting.

Ken Dorsey looks good in practice, where he doesn’t face a pass rush. In a game, he lacks the mobility to get away from the rush and, when he has to throw off his back foot, his lack of arm strength results in fluttering passes.

When he played well in the exhibition season, Cody Pickett raised the hopes of 49er fans, but Pickett was a seventh-round pick for a reason: He doesn’t have much feel for the game. Forty-Niner coaches were disappointed because he was so slow to pick up the offense last season. If you could combine Pickett’s physical ability with Dorsey’s intelligence and competitiveness, you’d have a great quarterback. But you can’t, so it’s likely neither one will make it big.

THERE WILL be two excellent quarterbacks available this year, Cal’s Aaron Rodgers and Utah’s Smith, though neither is considered the type of slam dunk pick that John Elway and Troy Aikman were when they came out.

Having watched Rodgers at Cal for the past two seasons, I’m convinced he will be a very good NFL quarterback. He’s very intelligent; he picked up Jeff Tedford’s offense very quickly in his first season. He’s a good decision-maker and makes all the throws. He’s hardly Michael Vick as a runner but he was able to run effectively, often for a first down, when holes opened up in the defense.

Most NFL draft boards, though, have Smith higher. He’s an excellent passer and a better runner than Rodgers. The ability to evade the rush, especially if the quarterback can run for good gains, is critical in today’s NFL, where the blitzing defenses can cause offensive chaos.

And, the 49ers are going to go back to a version of Walsh’s offense, a.k.a. the West Coast offense, next season, so decision-making and mobility will be vital for the 49er quarterback of the future.

THE 49ERS have made sweeping changes in the off-season, and the first impression is that new coach Mike Nolan and personnel chief Scot McCloughan are solid choices.

We’ll know more after their first draft next month. If they keep that first pick and draft a quarterback, they’ll be on the right track. If they trade down. . . well, the 49ers will be back in the same mess.

E-mail Glenn Dickey at glenndickey@hotmail.com

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