Should 49ers beware the 'Curse'?

As the 49ers narrow in on Aaron Rodgers as a leading candidate for their No. 1 overall selection in the April draft, there's some rumbling regarding how much credence should be given to the so-called "curse" that's being associated with Rodgers' mentor at the University of California, Jeff Tedford, a noted quarterback guru whose leading proteges have fallen flat in the NFL. "I don't really believe in a ‘Tedford Curse,'" said Rodgers, who might be a little biased. But should the 49ers?

It's a circumstance that has scared away several NFL scouts from Rodgers, despite the obvious physical skills he displayed during his two seasons at Cal and, particularly, during the proving ground of the past month, when the 6-foot-2, 223-pound product impressed at both the NFL Combine and his Pro Day workout last week in Berkeley.

But other hot college prospects who developed – and subsequently inspired confidence in their ability – under Tedford's tutelage also were impressive at this stage of the quarterback derby. And look how they turned out.

Not all of them turned out bad, of course. Trent Dilfer – the No. 6 overall pick in the first round of the 1994 draft after working with Tedford at Fresno State – won a Super Bowl as Baltimore's starting quarterback. He has a 53-43 record as a NFL starter.

But Dilfer hasn't exactly justified his high selection in the draft during a journeyman career that has produced just a 70.2 quarterback rating. It easily can be argued that he's a winner in the NFL only because he was carried by teams in Tampa Bay and Baltimore that had superb defenses.

And after Dilfer … Well, the list is not very pretty when only NFL accomplishment is taken into consideration.

Akili Smith – made into a star by Tedford at Oregon and the No. 3 overall pick in the 1999 draft – has been a complete bust who already has been cut by two teams and is now plying his trade in the very minor-league NFL Europe just to keep hope alive he might get asked back for one more shot.

Then there's David Carr – drafted No. 1 overall by Houston in 2002 – who is on the cusp of success but still hasn't proven himself as a franchise quarterback. And you have Joey Harrington – the No. 3 overall pick by Detroit in 2002 – who hasn't played up to expectations in two seasons as a starter and is getting precariously close to Smith territory. Tedford's other first-round QB product, Kyle Boller, was drafted with the No. 19 overall pick by Baltimore but also hasn't lived up to expectations – yet – with a 68.1 quarterback rating after two seasons.

Amazingly, none of those Tedford products – who all were stars in college – have thrown more touchdown passes than interceptions during their respective pro careers, always a measure of success in the NFL.

With Harrington on the edge of being a top-of-the-draft bust and Boller also struggling in a system that puts little pressure on him to make plays, several NFL types are beginning to believe it's Tedford's system that makes the quarterback. And once out of that QB-friendly system – and left to fend for themselves with physical skills and tools in the big, bad NFL – those players are exposed as not necessarily as good as their college accomplishments might suggest.

Tedford is a hands-on coach who puts loads of attention, patience and hard work into his quarterbacks. He's a technique coach whose system made it easy at Cal for Rodgers to set up and find receivers with his quick release. In one season with Tedford at Cal, Boller came from oblivion to become a first-round prospect, but his fundamentals regressed in Baltimore after he was separated from Tedford.

Tedford says not to compare the pro potential of his two recent QB products at Cal.

"(Rodgers) was definitely more polished than Kyle was," Tedford said. "Kyle had some mechanical flaws that he worked very hard to straighten out. Aaron was pretty natural. We worked on a couple of things, but we didn't have a lot to work on."

Still, the stigma of Tedford's NFL products remains. This obviously is a phenomenon that already has been run by 49ers coach Mike Nolan, who likes to factor in all possible data when making personnel decisions.

But Nolan scoffs at the suggestion the lack of proven track record of other Tedford products should be held against Rodgers' potential.

"People are trying to put a knock on the fact that (Tedford's) had a couple go – Akili Smith, Harrington – and they really haven't panned out just yet as being there," Nolan said. "I think that's unfair to put any of that on Aaron, because I think Aaron is going to be a very good quarterback in the NFL.

"There were a lot of red flags on Akili when he came out. Joey is still proving himself. In a lot of respects, I would say Aaron is a better player coming out than either of those guys were. I think he's more polished in his mechanics, in his patience in delivering the ball. I believe he's ahead of those guys."

That's a good thing if the 49ers are planning on taking Rodgers at No. 1, which now is being projected by several draft analysts. Smith is 3-14 as a NFL starter with a 52.8 quarterback rating. Harrington is 14-30 with a 67.2 rating. Tedford's five previous first-round quarterbacks, in fact, have combined as NFL starters for a 98-127 record and have a combined quarterback rating of just 68.6.

Though Rodgers said the "Tedford Curse" has been brought up a few times during his discussions with NFL teams in recent months, Tedford said to distance Rodgers from his other quarterback products.

"I don't think there's any doubt he's ready," Tedford said. "There's going to be a transition period, no matter what, to go to the next level. But he's very mature, very mentally tough, so I think he's going to be able to handle the jump."

Better than some of Tedford's other quarterbacks?

Tedford shrugged.

"He's going to make somebody very happy," Tedford said.

The question now is if the 49ers will take that calculated risk to find happiness, knowing there's this possibility of being cursed if they do.


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