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No clear choice for 49ers, but they should go with Smith as No. 1

Posted: Wednesday, April 20, 2005

NEW YORK — The San Francisco 49ers picked one of the worst years to plummet to the bottom of the NFL.

That's because the first pick in this weekend's NFL draft isn't as clear as usual. There really are no teams that want to trade up for the choice and there isn't a player who jumps out.

The same holds for most of the first round. While this is a deep draft with good players into Round 3, there are no players who come with the label ''certified star.''

The 49ers have looked at four potential No. 1s: quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers of California and Alex Smith of Utah; wide receiver Braylon Edwards of Michigan, and cornerback Antrel Rolle of Miami.

Forget Rolle, because cornerbacks just don't go first.

Probably forget Edwards, although he may be the most talented player available. Teams tend to reach for quarterbacks — especially when they finish 2-14, won't contend immediately and need a QB to build around.

Rodgers might be the popular choice because he played in the Bay Area and might be more ready to step in right away. Smith generally is considered a better long-term prospect.

Mike Nolan, the new coach, should think long term. Owner John York may think short term and could make a mistake. Go with ...

ALEX SMITH, QB, Utah

2. MIAMI. Nick Saban keeps getting asked about Ricky Williams. RONNIE BROWN, RB, Auburn could be as good with far less baggage.

3. CLEVELAND. Another team starting from scratch. Trent Dilfer is the interim QB and can throw to BRAYLON EDWARDS, WR, Michigan.

4. CHICAGO. Thomas Jones had his best season for the Bears last year, but CEDRIC BENSON, RB, Texas, is the type of power back who thrives in cold weather.

5. TAMPA BAY. The Bucs have never had a heavy duty running back, unless you count Bo Jackson, who declined to play for them after they took him No. 1 in 1986. CARNELL WILLIAMS, RB, Auburn.

6. TENNESSEE. A Rolle to replace a Rolle. ANTREL ROLLE, CB, Miami, Fla., for Samari (no relation).

7. MINNESOTA. The Vikings got this pick for Randy Moss. MIKE WILLIAMS, WR, Southern Cal, who has size, but not Moss' speed.

8. ARIZONA. Kurt Warner is a decent interim fix. AARON RODGERS, QB, California for the long term.

9. WASHINGTON. Everything has gone wrong in the offseason for the Redskins, no surprise with an owner making decisions he should stay out of. Dan ''The Fan'' Snyder let Fred Smoot go to Minnesota so he tries to replace him with ADAM ''Pacman'' JONES, CB, West Virginia.

10. DETROIT. Matt Millen loves smart overachievers, which he was as a player, and could be tempted by a guy like DE David Pollack of Georgia, the rap on whom is supposed to be ''short arms.'' He may regret passing on Pollack, but DERRICK JOHNSON, LB, Texas, could be very good.

11. DALLAS. In what seems the biggest no-brainer of the first round, especially because Bill Parcells hasn't uttered a word about it, the Cowboys go for SHAWNE MERRIMAN, DE-LB, Maryland to fit the 3-4 they're considering.

12. SAN DIEGO. This pick is part of the package the Chargers got from the Giants for Eli Manning. He may not be as big a steal as Jerry Rice (16th overall in 1985), but TROY WILLIAMSON, WR, South Carolina probably has more potential than any receiver in the draft.

13. HOUSTON. The Texans gambled and lost when they took a banged-up OT Tony Boselli in the 2002 expansion draft. ALEX BARRON, OT, Florida State.

14. CAROLINA. The Panthers let Muhsin Muhammad go because they couldn't afford him. MARK CLAYTON, WR, Oklahoma, has been downgraded because he's 5-11, 187 pounds, but he starred for an excellent college team.

15. KANSAS CITY. The defense has sabotaged one of the game's best offenses. ERASMUS JAMES, DE, Wisconsin has had injury problems, but is a hard-to-find pure pass rusher.

16. NEW ORLEANS. The Saints give up too many long passes on their fast turf. CARLOS ROGERS, CB, Auburn, might be the best cover cornerback in the draft.

17. CINCINNATI. Defensive guru Marvin Lewis has been stuck with a leaky D. TRAVIS JOHNSON, DT, Florida State, turned off people with surly interviews, but he can play.

18. MINNESOTA. The Vikings spent the offseason signing defenders for a unit that's done them in for years. Here's another addition, MARCUS SPEARS, DE, LSU.

19. ST. LOUIS. The Rams have been trying for years to find a bookend for Orlando Pace. Kyle Turley didn't work out so now it's JAMMAL BROWN, OT, Oklahoma.

20. DALLAS. They'd love to have Clayton, but there are receivers they can get later. DARRYL BLACKSTOCK, LB, Virginia is another guy who can fit Parcells' projected 3-4. (With the added plus of having played for former Tuna helper Al Groh in college.)

21. JACKSONVILLE. The Jaguars' defensive line is more than set. KHALIF BARNES, OT, Washington to try to stabilize the offensive side.

22. BALTIMORE. Former Titan Derrick Mason brings the Ravens consistency they've lacked at wide receiver. RODDY WHITE, WR, Alabama-Birmingham brings speed.

23. SEATTLE. Defense with DEMARCUS WARE, LB, Troy State. Don't laugh at Troy, which produced Osi Umenyioria, the defensive end San Diego wanted in the Manning deal instead of the first-rounder it got.

24. GREEN BAY. Say what you want about OL vacancies, these guys need defense. DAVID ''Short Arms'' POLLACK, DE, Georgia, a hugely productive player in college.

25. WASHINGTON. After a late trade with Denver, the Redskins got an extra first-rounder. With no wideouts of value for this spot, they go for the best tight end in the draft. HEATH MILLER, TE, Virginia.

26. NEW YORK JETS. They haven't really disguised the fact they need secondary help. JUSTIN MILLER, CB, Clemson.

27. ATLANTA. Ed Reed, the defensive player of the year last season, was taken 24th overall by Baltimore in 2002 because someone decided it's not a good idea to take safeties high. Wouldn't the Falcons be delighted if BRODNEY POOL, S, Oklahoma, is the next Ed Reed?

28. SAN DIEGO. A run on defense? MATT ROTH, DE, Iowa, A slightly undersized but very productive pass rusher.

29. INDIANAPOLIS. Defense is keeping Peyton Manning and Co. from the Super Bowl. FABIAN WASHINGTON, CB, Nebraska.

30. PITTSBURGH. Kordell Stewart. Hines Ward. Antwaan Randle El. All college QBs who could do other things. The fastest rising player in this draft is MATT JONES, SLASH, Arkansas, a college QB who is a WR, TE or both after demonstrating great hands at the Senior Bowl and running under 4.4.

31. PHILADELPHIA. With Terrell Owens (predictably) grumbling and the rest of the receiving corps pedestrian, the Eagles need a receiver and could trade up, perhaps for Jones. But with multiple picks, they can get one later. ELTON BROWN, G-T, Virginia.

32. NEW ENGLAND. Tedy Bruschi is a question mark. BARRETT RUUD, LB, Nebraska. Or someone no one expects but fits the Bill Belichick mold.



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