Quit Stalling, 49ers
by Glenn Dickey
Apr 12, 2005

WITH THE NFL draft less than two weeks away, there are serious questions about the way the 49ers are proceeding.

This week, for instance, they are interviewing four possible choices for their No. 1 pick in the draft: quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith, cornerback Antrel Rolle and wide receiver Braylon Edwards. Does that mean, after all the time coach Mike Nolan and company have watched video and workouts and talked individually to the players that they still don’t know who they want to pick? That’s scary, if true.

The 49ers are also simultaneously talking to agents for the players, to determine how much they’d have to pay, which sets up an even worse scenario. If they make a decision based on economics, that would really send the wrong message to fans.

Without any specific knowledge of what the agents are asking, it’s still possible to predict that the quarterbacks’ packages would be higher than those for either Rolle or Edwards – but either one would be the wrong pick.

There has never been a cornerback taken with the first pick in the draft, and this is no time to start. With the restrictions on defensive contact which were enforced in the NFL last year, the term “shut down corner” is fast disappearing, and the value of a top cornerback has been substantially reduced. The 49ers certainly need help at cornerback, but taking Rolle No. 1 would be a huge mistake.

Edwards is considered by many to be the best player in the draft, but traditionally, wide receivers have not been viewed as a good choice at the top of the draft because it’s usually an easy position to fill, though the 49ers didn’t do very well when they picked Rashaun Woods last year. Woods may still turn out to be a good receiver, but he didn’t work hard in practice last year, so he didn’t play very much. If he hasn’t learned his lesson, his NFL career will be a short one.

ANOTHER REASON wide receivers aren’t highly valued as high draft picks is that teams know it’s much more important to get a good player throwing the ball than a good one catching it. If the 49ers draft Edwards and still have only Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey or Cody Pickett to throw to him, lots of luck.

Nolan seemed to understand that when he said earlier that he hoped this would be the only time the team had the No. 1 pick, so it was important to select a quarterback. I hope he still believes that, and that his choice will be Rodgers.

The draft is not a panacea. Teams don’t turn into winners because they get a No. 1 pick. Look at it this way: For the rest of the draft, the 49ers and New England Patriots will be picking in virtually the same spot, starting with the Patriots pick at the end of the first round and the 49ers pick in the second round. So, the 49ers edge is that first player, but would you rather have the 49ers roster with one great player from the top of the draft or the Patriots roster without that pick? The question answers itself.

A team can get a jump start, though, with the right quarterback, as the Colts did with Peyton Manning, because it all starts with the quarterback. The risks of drafting a quarterback are high, but the risks of passing on a quarterback who could be the mainstay of a team for many years is even greater. Just try to imagine what the 49ers would have been like in the ‘80s and ‘90s if Bill Walsh had not drafted Joe Montana and traded for Steve Young. Between them, Montana and Young quarterbacked the 49ers for 20 seasons, and the 49ers won five Super Bowls.

Nobody can predict with certainty what Rodgers will do as a pro, but he seems to have all the necessary ingredients for success. He is a very accurate passer and can make all the throws, including the deep one; Jerry Rice worked out for awhile with Rodgers before last Saturday’s Cal scrimmage and reportedly told observers that Rodgers had as strong an arm as any quarterback who had thrown to him. (I didn’t arrive at the stadium until Rice had left, so this is second-hand knowledge, but from a reliable source.) Rodgers is very smart off the field and also has “football intelligence,” which is not always the same; he picked up Jeff Tedford’s offense at Cal very quickly and would do the same with the 49ers offense. He is very, very confident, an important attribute for a quarterback who Nolan has said he expects to start as a rookie. The pressure of starting as a rookie would not break him.

IT’S IMPORTANT to do the research and Nolan has certainly done that. He’s been very thorough, both in observing workouts and talking with the quarterbacks repeatedly.

Now, though, he’s just spinning his wheels with the meetings with four players this week. Even if a quarterback is more costly, he has to draft one, and he knows it. It’s time to make a decision, and that decision should be to draft Aaron Rodgers.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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