Which QB will 49ers pass up?


Time's up for Mike Nolan and the San Francisco 49ers.

No more private workouts or tape reviews.

No more splitting hairs or quarterbacks.

What started three months ago as an exercise in rehabilitation for the 49ers reaches critical mass today when Nolan, the team's new coach and decision maker, reveals a draft strategy with the No. 1 pick that could be debated for years to come.

Alex Smith, Aaron Rodgers or punt?

The decision will set in motion the reclamation job Nolan has begun in San Francisco as well as the 70th NFL draft in New York.

Nolan, whose preparation for this assignment included the past three years as Ravens defensive coordinator, must choose between Smith and Rodgers, two promising quarterbacks with issues, or wide receiver Braylon Edwards. He could also trade the pick or simply pass until he was ready to make a selection.

Hanging in the balance is a signing bonus of around $20 million and the long-term health of a proud but reeling franchise.

Nolan said this week that he had told no one of his decision, not even team owner John York or vice president of player personnel Scot McCloughan.

But speculation has been rampant in the weeks leading into the draft. Rodgers, who grew up in nearby Chico as a 49ers fan and later starred at Cal, was considered the early front-runner.

In the past week, perception seemed to favor Smith, who led Utah to an undefeated season. Edwards, from Michigan, has been a virtual afterthought even though he might be the surest player in the draft.

Nolan's real intention, it appears, is to generate value at the No. 1 spot in order to trade down in the first round. But the draft is weak at the top and there are no teams willing to take on the financial commitment or accompanying risk.

The Miami Dolphins hold the No. 2 pick and they also are inclined to trade out of the spot. But they privately have expressed interest in Smith.

What is clear about this draft is that Smith and Rodgers arrive with more questions than most top-rated quarterbacks.

Rodgers has been criticized for being another in a line of robotic quarterbacks under Cal coach Jeff Tedford who have failed to make their mark in the NFL. Among those quarterbacks are the Ravens' Kyle Boller, the Detroit Lions' Joey Harrington and the Houston Texans' David Carr.

Smith comes from a passing offense at Utah in which he operated almost exclusively out of the shotgun. That concerns NFL personnel men who would liked to have seen him play under center.

Rodgers' arm is stronger, but Smith, at 6 feet 3, is 2 inches taller.

Smith is extremely intelligent, but Rodgers is deemed more ready to play early.

Rodgers defends himself quickly against the charge of being a mechanical quarterback.

"I think that is one of my best attributes," he said. "I do the same thing every time. The ball gets out of my hand quick and I have a lot of arm strength as well. Being mechanical is a good thing."

Smith on being a system quarterback: "Obviously it is a different style of play. As far as football knowledge and things I was asked to do ... I think I can be more prepared than any quarterback - making checks at the line of scrimmage, reading defenses. What I was asked to know and do was more than anyone else. In that sense, I feel more prepared because I played in a system."

Mike Mayock, a draft analyst for NFL Network and a former defensive back with the New York Giants, says the 49ers should take Smith.

"My take on the quarterback situation is that I believe Alex Smith has the most potential," Mayock said. "He's 20 years old with tremendous upside and an above-average arm. ... I look at the tangibles and intangibles and it tells me that given proper coaching and time, this young man could be an excellent player in the NFL.

"I look at Aaron Rodgers, with above-average arm strength, a quick release, an accurate pocket passer. I don't get the same feeling as far as potential. But I think the worst you'd get is a pretty good quarterback, because I think he will make it."

There is one other element that could play into the decision. That is a contract.

Nolan originally indicated that getting an agreement with his first choice before the draft was important. He has since backed off that stance, and said it won't play a role in which player he takes.

Yet Rodgers, the homegrown product, would be easier and quicker to sign than Smith, who lives in La Mesa, Calif.

Rodgers is represented by Mike Sullivan, and Smith by Tom Condon.

Condon was the agent for last year's No. 1 pick, Eli Manning, who received a six-year contract worth as much as $54 million.

That's just the starting point.

NFL Draft

Today : Rounds 1-3

Tomorrow : Rounds 4-7

Ravens' picks : 22nd, 53rd, 84th, 124th, 158th, 195th, 213th, 234th

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