The price of No. 1 has gone up
The outstanding Pro Days earlier this week of three of this year's elite college prospects – junior quarterbacks Alex Smith of Utah and Aaron Rodgers of Cal and senior receiver Braylon Edwards of Michigan – made sure of that. While it remains true Smith and Rodgers might not be quarterbacks worthy of the No. 1 overall choice compared to quarterbacks of other years, they clearly are the best available this year, and their extensive Pro Day workouts erased any doubts that each are legitimate prospects to succeed in the NFL at the game's most important position. And the 49ers will get one of them unless somebody else ponies up a good enough offer to convince the team to relinquish its top pick. That offer definitely will have to better than it would have just a month ago at the NFL Combine, when some respected league executives came out declaring that the No. 1 pick might not have the trade value of typical years this time around because it was hard to distinguish between the top five picks – and perhaps the 10 picks. But that argument has lost some of its validity. With 49ers receivers coach Jerry Sullivan running the workout, Edwards completed a three-day run of Pro Days by the Big Three contenders for No. 1 on Friday with an excellent showing at the University of Michigan. Edwards didn't drop one pass, and physically, he is a monster prospect at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds after running both of his 40-yard dashes below 4.5 seconds. When asked if he would know who the team's No. 1 pick will be after Edwards' workout, Niners coach Mike Nolan said, "No, I don't believe so. We are going to bring all those (three) players in and visit with them again (over the next few weeks)." Nolan didn't deny that the team is pleased with each of the Big Three prospects, but he isn't about to tip his hand. However, he's just not posturing now when he says the top pick will have legitimate value. It will, and it does, and if a team wants to guarantee it will get Smith or Rodgers, or Edwards for that matter, it will have to deal with the Niners and give up at least a second-round pick to go with a high first-rounder, and probably more. "The board lines up in a certain way right now," Nolan said. "It (looks) differently than three weeks ago. The board continues to change ever so subtle from time to time. It ultimately comes to who is the best college player that is going to make the best transition to the NFL. You still have to go through the process so you can eliminate room for error." You can bet that Miami and Cleveland – each of whom probably needs a quarterback in the draft worse than the 49ers – now are getting a big antsy that they might not get one of the top QB prospects, or at least the one they want. Those teams might now be willing to give up their high second-rounder to go along with their top pick to ensure they get their pick of the litter. That's a deal the Niners definitely will consider making, though team insiders are saying that, after the knock-your-socks-off workouts of Smith and Rodgers last week, San Francisco is now leaning toward securing its quarterback of the future in April, feeling confident that Rodgers and Smith – at this moment, probably in that order, though it still could change – are worth the top pick, straight up. And, lo and behold, the teams holding the fourth, fifth and even sixth slots in the first round – that's Chicago, Tampa Bay and Tennessee – all could be interested in solving their problems at quarterback in the draft. (The Titans no longer are secure at the position for the future because of Steve McNair's injury problems). And then you have Arizona sitting at No. 8. (Just who is the Cardinals' starting QB, anyway?). The 49ers will listen long and hard if any of those teams package their No. 1 with an attractive array of draft picks and/or proven veterans. And if the deal is good enough, San Francisco will pull the trigger to upgrade in other areas, feeling that Tim Rattay can hold down the position this year and possibly longer. If that were the case, the Niners certainly would use one of the picks they acquire later in the draft to pick a less-heralded quarterback prospect in the second or third round. "It's safe to say that one of those guys, whether it's the guy from Akron (Charlie Frye), or the guy from Arkansas (Matt Jones) or the guy from Auburn (Jason Campbell), they could likely be one of those guys (the 49ers would select later)," Nolan said. The Niners are keeping all their options open. But if they go the trade option with the No. 1, their bargaining power has increased, and perhaps increased manifold. Considering where that option stood just a month ago, the Niners have to feel much better now that their position at the head of the draft table has them sitting pretty.
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