NFL Draft, Joe Montana and More
by Glenn Dickey
Apr 28, 2006

THIS NFL draft is one of the most unpredictable in recent years, but there is one constant: Teams still donít quite know how to evaluate quarterbacks.

Mistakes are made at other positions, too, but itís much easier to evaluate, say, a running back or wide receiver because their jobs donít change much when they come to the pros. Quarterbacks, though, have to learn a much different game. Arm strength and accuracy can be evaluated, but nobody can accurately judge how quarterbacks will make decisions at the pro level, and good decision-making is the most important factor for an NFL quarterback.

Itís even more complicated now because so many college teams work out of the spread formation, with the quarterback taking a long snap from center, instead of a pro-type offense. Alex Smith had to make that adjustment last season with the 49ers, and you know how well that worked. Now, the main question mark in the draft is Texas quarterback Vince Young, because he operated out of a spread, and nobody can know how good heíll be in a pro offense.

Many mock drafts have had Young falling to the Raiders at the seventh pick. In this morningís Chronicle, Nancy Gay had the Tennessee Titans picking Young at No. 3, though both coach Jeff Fisher and offensive co-ordinator Norm Chow prefer Matt Leinart, whom Chow coached when he was at USC.

Leinart was once projected as the second pick in the first round, but when the New Orleans Saints signed Drew Brees, that removed their need to draft a quarterback. Itís still hard to believe that Leinart would fall as far as 7th, but if he does, the Raiders should snap him up. Heís polished enough to start as a rookie, as Peyton Manning did, and the Raiders need a quarterback.

Vanderbiltís Jay Cutler is another question mark. He has all the physical tools but his team didnít win. Obviously, Cutler didnít have good players around him, but that still raises questions.

Itís possible that both the Titans and Jets, at No. 4, will go for quarterbacks; the Jets have to be concerned about the durability of oft-injured Chad Pennington. That would be good news for the 49ers, who would then most likely be able to pick between outside linebacker A. J. Hawk and tight end Vernon Davis, both of whom appear to be special players.

My guess, though, is that the Titans will go for Leinart and heíll be the only quarterback to go before the 49ers and Raiders pick.

SPEAKING OF quarterbacks, the 49ers made one very good first-round pick of a quarterback, John Brodie in 1957, but they also made some clunkers, notably Steve Spurrier and Jim Druckenmiller.

Spurrier had been a Heisman Trophy winner and he was a smart quarterback who has gone on to be a very successful college coach, but he didnít have a strong enough arm for the NFL. Druckenmiller had a strong arm, but nobody ever accused him of being smart.

There were a lot of factors that went into the Druckenmiller choice. The 49ers hadnít planned to draft a quarterback on the first round (they had Steve Young at the time) but club president Carmen Policy asked Bill Walsh to look at quarterbacks who might be available on the second round. Walsh turned in a glowing report on Jake Plummer. He never looked at Druckenmiller, who was expected to go in the top 10, well before the 49ersí pick.

As the 49ers turn was approaching, they started to think of drafting a quarterback. At about that time, they heard that a rape charge had been filed against Plummer (it was later dismissed), so they didnít want to take a chance on him. Druckenmiller was still available and player personnel chief Vinny Cerrato, who had the same agent, pushed very hard for him and convinced others in the ďwar roomĒ to pick him.

As we know, Druckenmiller was a disaster, and one that was predictable. He was totally unsuited to the 49ersí offense, which was Walshís offense, somewhat modified, and a terrible decision-maker Ė on and off the field.

THE MARGIN between success and failure in professional sports is often much less than fans realize. A friend and I were playing the ďwhat if?Ē game at lunch one day recently. For instance:

--What if Baltimore quarterback George Shaw hadnít been injured? The Colts picked up a semi-pro quarterback named Johnny Unitas, who had been cut earlier by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Unitas went on to a Hall of Fame career, but if Shaw hadnít been injured, Unitas probably would never have gotten past that semi-pro league.

--What if Dan Pastorini hadnít broken his leg? Jim Plunkett was languishing on the Raiders bench and he seemed to be a great college quarterback whose career had been ruined because he was battered when he played behind a weak offense line, with the Patriots. When he got his chance with the Raiders, he took them to two Super Bowl wins.

--What if Joe Montana had been drafted by a team other than the 49ers? At that time, most NFL teams were looking for quarterbacks with strong arms, and Montana didnít fit that description. He might not have gotten out of training camp with another team but he came to the one team which could best use his special abilities, his uncanny accuracy and great decision-making, and he became the best quarterback of his era.

WHAT WERE the Green Bay Packers thinking when they signed Charles Woodson to a contract which starts with $10.5 million in his first year? Havenít they been watching Woodson? His play has steadily deteriorated, he hasnít been able to stay healthy and heís not exactly a plus factor in the locker room. Of course, this is the same team that made Mike McCarthy its head coach.

But, arenít you relieved that Brett Favre finally decided to come back for another season? Now we can all sleep easier without that worry on our minds.

GOODBYE TO KEITH: At 77, Keith Jackson has decided to retire, and heíll be missed. Not many people remember that Jackson was the play-by-play man for the first season of Monday Night Football before Roone Arledge brought in his good friend, Frank Gifford, to prove he couldnít handle the job. Arledge actually did Jackson a favor, because Jackson was much better suited to college football, with his folksy approach.

LAST LAUGH: Janice Hough writes, ďA one-alarm fire has temporarily closed the ACME Chophouse Restaurant at AT&T Park. Rumor has it the fire would have been put our sooner, except that members of the Giants bullpen showed up to help.

LETTERS: I updated this section yesterday.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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