49ers Make Right Move; Raiders ????
by Glenn Dickey
May 01, 2006

THE 49ERS draft justified Mike Nolan’s trade to get an extra draft pick. The Raider draft was a bit puzzling. More on that later.

Nolan picked up the two starters he wanted on the first round, tight end Vernon Davis with the No. 6 pick, Manny Lawson, who’s expected to play the “elephant” position that Charles Haley made famous, sometimes lining up as a defensive end, sometimes as a linebacker, at No. 22.

Basically, Lawson replaces the departed Julian Peterson. Davis doesn’t replace anybody, because the 49ers didn’t have a pass catching tight end last season. Eric Johnson has been making good strides in recovery, but after missing two of the last three seasons with injuries, Johnson can’t be counted on. He’s a beefed-up wide receiver, and it may well be that his body can’t handle the extra bulk, which is why he keeps breaking down.

There is no such concern with Davis, who has tight end size (6-3, 255 pounds) with wide receiver speed, 4.38 in the 40 in one timing. Nolan said he would not only be the 49ers’ fastest tight end but their fastest receiver. In fact, he’ll probably be split wide in some formations, with one of the other tight ends used for blocking.

We’ll never know if the 49ers would have taken Ohio State linebacker A. J. Hawk if he’d been available, as many of the “experts” had speculated, because he was drafted just ahead of them by the Green Bay Packers. If both Davis and Hawk had been available, the 49ers would have had to choose between filling the Peterson hole or bolstering the offense. Without Hawk there, the Davis choice was a no-brainer, and the 49ers apparently got their Peterson replacement later in Lawson.

Down the road, the overall success of the draft will be judged by how well the 49ers did in the later rounds. For now, only the scouts really know, because the second-day picks typically involve players who will have to shift positions or are being picked on potential. There is some reason for optimism, though, because Nolan and Scot McCloughan did a good job overall on last year’s draft. Apparently, the team’s scouting staff has also been improved, after a long decline.

Last year, you had to feel sorry for rookie quarterback Alex Smith, who was thrown into the fire behind an offensive line that was a serious problem for most of the season, with no real No. 1 receiver and an offensive coordinator who did little to help him.

All of those problems seem to have been solved. Green Bay inexplicably hired Mike McCarthy as its head coach, creating an opportunity for Nolan to hire Norv Turner. He may not be head coach material, but Turner is an excellent offensive coordinator.

The offensive line started to come together late last season as Nolan finally went to rookies Adam Snyder and David Baas. This year, Jonas Jennings returns off the injury list and Larry Allen has been added, so the offensive line should be a strength. Free agent Antonio Bryant should be the No. 1 receiver who’s needed. And now, Davis provides another great target.

Now, it will be up to Smith to produce. There are no more excuses.

THE RAIDERS made a good choice with Texas defensive back Michael Huff, but they passed on a better one.

Huff is a very good player, fast enough to play corner, though he will be used at safety by the Raiders because that’s their greater need. He’s a smart player, much like Charles Woodson in his play and should be a Pro Bowl player fairly soon. He’s the player I recommended that the Raiders take, but when I made that recommendation, I had no idea that Matt Leinart would be available at their turn.

How could they pass on Leinart? Was Al Davis just so blinded by Vince Young that he didn’t even consider another quarterback?

You have to start with a quarterback when you’re building an NFL team, and the Raiders don’t have a winning quarterback right now. They’re kidding themselves with Aaron Brooks. Early in his career, Brooks was a quarterback who could make a big play but lacked consistency. Last year, he was consistent – consistently bad. He was finally benched by the Saints. I’m sure he’ll make some big plays for the Raiders, scrambling away from the pressure and hitting Randy Moss for a 50-yard gain. I’m equally sure that he’ll make many more bad plays, and the Raiders will continue to flounder with him at quarterback.

The second-string quarterback is Marques Tuiasosopo, who is just lost, trying to play in a system that doesn’t fit his talents. The guy they like is second-year quarterback Andrew Walter, and I like his potential, too. But Walter is still basically a rookie. Last year, he ran the Scout team in practice, which means he was practicing with the opposing team’s offense, not the Raiders. Then, he was hurt and didn’t practice at all. He certainly won’t be a factor this season.

Leinart is that rare quarterback who can start as a rookie, as Peyton Manning did. He played four years in a pro-type offense at USC. He was surrounded by superior talent, but that talent wouldn’t have looked so good without him making the plays. He made the right decisions, the clutch throws. He’s also intelligent, as he showed when coaches and personnel people asked him questions about play calling.

So, what didn’t the Raiders like about him? Maybe Davis remembered the last time he drafted a left-handed USC quarterback. But Leinart is nothing like Todd Marinovich. In fact, in attitude and deportment, Leinart is probably the anti-Marinovich.

Leinart does need good protection, but the Raiders are starting to improve their offensive line play by moving Robert Gallery back to left tackle, the position he played in college. Gallery was moved to right tackle because some genius on the Raiders coaching staff thought he’d be good there. We can only hope that person is gone.

Meanwhile, Leinart has landed in a good spot at Arizona, which has good offensive talent and a veteran quarterback, Kurt Warner, who can’t stay healthy. It won’t be long before Leinart is starting.

NOTHING IS certain about the draft, but right now, it appears that we’ll look back at Vernon Davis's career and say the 49ers made a great pick. The Raiders? We’ll look back and say, ‘What were they thinking when they passed on Leinart?’ But then, we’re already saying that.

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