||04-19-2005 09:38 AM
ESPN Insider Draft Notes
Niners intrigued by Smith's upsideBy Todd McShay
Mort's draft preview: 49ers and Dolphins
The tide seems to be turning in San Francisco regarding the No. 1 overall pick. For the last few months, Cal QB Aaron Rodgers has been the odds-on favorite to be the top pick in the draft. It was assumed Rodgers was the more sensible decision, because he comes from a pro-style system in the Bay Area and also grew up as a huge Joe Montana fan.
Furthermore, there has been a feeling that Rodgers would take a lesser deal than Utah QB Alex Smith, who is represented by Tom Condon. However, even though the 49ers organization has become notoriously cheap, we're getting the sense that new head coach Mike Nolan has fallen in love with Smith's intangibles and potential.
The 49ers know that Smith, who comes from a wide-open shotgun offensive scheme at Utah, will need time to adjust to taking snaps from underneath center in the NFL. However, Nolan knows the 49ers aren't going to turn the organization around in one year. Tim Couch was an example of a quarterback who played predominantly out of the shotgun in college and was never able to adjust, but mental capacity played just as big a role in Couch's downfall. Others such as Chad Pennington (Jets), Byron Leftwich (Jaguars) and Drew Brees (Chargers) struggled with the transition early in their careers but have turned out just fine.
Nolan also knows that Jeff Tedford protÃƒÂƒÃ‚Â©gÃƒÂƒÃ‚Â©s (Akili Smith, Trent Dilfer, Joey Harrington, David Carr, Kyle Boller) have an even worse track record. The 49ers won't get Smith for the bargain basement price they might have gotten Rodgers, but the team and Condon will work between now and Saturday to reach a middle ground. If we are correct and Smith does become the No. 1 pick, it will signal that Nolan has gotten the 49ers' front office to evaluate players on talent, not finances.
The Dolphins (No. 2), Browns (No. 3) and Bears (No. 4) all want to trade down but are having a difficult time finding suitors. For the first time ever, we could see teams moving down but not getting much in return.
The trend could be unique in that teams moving up won't have to give up much in terms of draft picks but will be weary nonetheless because they'll be spending more money on players who would not have warranted that high a pick in most previous drafts.
We also could see a couple teams pass on their pick in an effort to draft the same player a few picks later. For example, the Dolphins could elect to pass a couple of times and still get RB Ronnie Brown at a better value at No. 5. If that's the case, the summer could be filled with rookie holdouts.
Interestingly enough, Rodgers has long been considered the favorite to be the top prospect off the board, but if Smith is the 49ers' choice, Rodgers could experience a free fall.
If the Dolphins can't make a deal to move down, they'll likely draft Ronnie Brown at No. 2. Rodgers isn't out of the question, but we're told the team has graded Brown ahead of Rodgers, and the running back position is a greater need than quarterback, where coach Nick Saban seems content giving A.J. Feeley a one-year test run in the new scheme.
Even if Rodgers is on the board at No. 3, we still don't think the Browns will take him. The Browns' first will attempt to trade down and could have a partner in Tampa Bay, so long as it doesn't cost the Buccaneers one of their day-one picks. If the Browns can't get a deal done to trade down, WR Braylon Edwards is the prospect they covet most.
Benson the Bear?
There seems to be a growing consensus that Texas RB Cedric Benson is the leading candidate at No. 4 to the Bears. While Auburn's Carnell Williams ranks higher on most draft boards, Benson is the better fit for new offensive coordinator Ron Turner's power running scheme.
The team brought in Thomas Jones a year ago when Terry Shea was implementing more of a Rams and Chiefs-like scheme, which emphasized versatility at running back. Now that the focus has shifted, Benson becomes a much better fit than Jones as a 25-30 carry-per-game "bell cow" at the position.
Bucs making noise
As usual, Tampa Bay is in the middle of every trade rumor (moving up and moving down) because general manager Bruce Allen is the king of dangling deals in front of as many teams as will listen. Assuming the Bucs stay put, they could be faced with a difficult but enviable decision to make at No. 5, with QB Rodgers, RB Carnell Williams and WR Mike Williams all still on the board.
If the Bucs go with either of the Williamses, which we think is a strong possibility, no team will even consider a quarterback until Arizona at No. 8. As unrealistic as it sounds, if you really look at the rest of the teams in the first round, you get all the way to Green Bay at No. 24 before quarterback is even considered as a top-three position of need. We're obviously not saying Rodgers will last until pick No. 24, but when you start to match prospects up to team needs, Rodgers' situation becomes dicey.
Trade still in the Cards
We still contend that the Cardinals and Bills will get an L.J. Shelton-for -Travis Henry trade worked out leading up to or on draft day. Bills general manager Tom Donahoe's request to also flip-flop second-round picks (Nos. 44 and 55) should be granted. That would give the Bills a chance to pick a lot closer to the first round, where they already have traded away their original pick. It also would address their top need at left tackle.
For the Cardinals, the thought process is that one of their biggest needs is addressed with Henry taking over as the starting running back, and they also get the freedom to draft the best available defensive player at No. 8. While cornerback is clearly their biggest defensive need, don't be shocked if Texas OLB Derrick Johnson is the pick. This year's cornerback class is much deeper than the linebacker class, and the team could use an elite player in the linebacker corps after making Ronald McKinnon, LeVar Woods and Ray Thompson salary-cap casualties.
If the team could get out of the first two rounds with Henry, Johnson and a cornerback such as LSU's Corey Webster, it would have to be deemed a success.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã‚Â¢ Despite heavy rumors regarding the Vikings' moving into the top three, we still hear from sources we trust that the team is staying put and will draft the best available athletes at picks No. 7 and 18. The ideal scenario is for Mike Williams to fall to them at No. 7. If he doesn't, the team would consider drafting the best available defensive end on its board, then take the best available receiver at No. 18, which could be Oklahoma's Mark Clayton.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã‚Â¢ The Chiefs are heavily considering the defensive end position with the 15th overall pick, and it seems that Erasmus James might be the odds-on favorite if he's still on the board. There seems to be a disagreement within the personnel staff about the value of James and other first-round end prospects, but from what we're told the majority is in favor of James.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã‚Â¢ Virginia OG Elton Brown is the most talented guard in this year's class, but he's done nothing in the postseason to help his draft stock. In fact, his decisions to back out of the Senior Bowl and to not work out at the combine have NFL scouts and personnel officials furious with him. If Brown, once considered a possible late-first-round prospect, free falls to the third round, it will have everything to do with his lousy postseason game plan.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã‚Â¢ Clemson WR Airese Currie was considered one of the fastest prospects in this class until he ran disappointing 40-yard dash times (high 4.4s and low 4.5s) at the combine. It was recently discovered, however, that Currie was running with a broken bone in his foot. Currie has had a cast put on the foot and is walking around in crutches right now.
Although he won't be able to improve his time before the draft, the injury could work out in his favor, as teams realize he is a 4.3 speed guy who simply was impeded by the broken foot. In our opinion, Currie is worth taking a chance on early on the second day as a potential slot receiver with after-the-catch explosiveness.
Scouts Inc.'s Top 32
RANK NAME POS CLASS SCHOOL PREV
1. Braylon Edwards WR SR Michigan 1
2. Ronnie Brown RB SR Auburn 2
3. Mike Williams WR JR USC 3
4. Aaron Rodgers QB JR Cal-Berkeley 4
5. Alex Smith QB JR Utah 5
6. Antrel Rolle DC SR Miami-Fla. 6
7. Carnell Williams RB SR Auburn 7
8. Adam Jones DC JR West Virginia 8
9. Derrick Johnson OLB SR Texas 9
10. Cedric Benson RB SR Texas 12
11. Shawne Merriman DE JR Maryland 10
12. Carlos Rogers DC SR Auburn 11
13. Alex Barron OT SR Florida State 13
14. Troy Williamson WR JR South Carolina 14
15. David Pollack DE SR Georgia 16
16. Marcus Spears DE SR LSU 17
17. Travis Johnson DT SR Florida State 18
18. Erasmus James DE SR Wisconsin 18
19. Mark Clayton WR SR Oklahoma 19
20. DeMarcus Ware DE SR Troy 24
21. Thomas Davis DS JR Georgia 22
22. Dan Cody DE SR Oklahoma 20
23. Shaun Cody DT SR USC 21
24. Jammal Brown OT SR Oklahoma 27
25. Heath Miller TE JR Virginia 25
26. Khalif Barnes OT SR Washington 25
27. Marlin Jackson DC SR Michigan 26
28. Roddy White WR SR UAB NR
29. Matt Roth DE SR Iowa 28
30. Fabian Washington DC JR Nebraska 29
31. Brodney Pool DS JR Oklahoma NR
32. Jason Campbell QB SR Auburn NR
Scouts, Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN Insider.