Risky business: Niners don't bite on Brooks

So now we know one thing for certain about the 49ers: They're not risk takers. At least, not risk takers enough to chance blowing a third-round draft pick on a possible first-round talent. The NFL's supplemental draft lined up perfectly for the Niners on Thursday – they won the first overall pick in each round in a weighted lottery system – but Ahmad Brooks didn't last as long as they'd hoped.

With at least two fourth-round picks at their disposal in the 2007 draft, the 49ers took the safe route and opted to wait for Brooks to fall to them in the fourth round of Thursday's 2006 supplemental phase, which was conducted via computer from NFL headquarters in New York.

It almost happened. Brooks – the only player chosen among seven supplemental candidates – slid to the No. 22 pick in the third round, where the Cincinnati Bengals finally jumped on the opportunity to grab a big, versatile linebacker who brings with him huge upside but also more baggage than any young player has a right to.

The 49ers' brain trust had to be gnashing teeth when the team finally decided what draft round to make a bid on Brooks. As we've been reporting on SFI since Brooks' Pro Day back in June, the 49ers were seriously considering making a third-round bid for the University of Virginia product – perhaps the most celebrated talent to become available in the supplemental draft in the past 15 years.

And lo and behold – there Brooks was to be had with that third-round bid, since San Francisco's third-rounder would have landed Brooks over any other NFL team that also submitted a third-rounder.

It was a calculated risk, and – all things considered – one the 49ers easily could have made.

But is it one they should have made?

That's a question that will be debated until the jury comes in on what kind of player Brooks ultimately is in the NFL, where he has All-Pro potential but also the potential to crap out because of the shaky character, work ethic, health issues, intelligence and ability to keep his body in shape that he displayed in college.

The 49ers spent a lot of time studying and analyzing Brooks, with coach Mike Nolan and personnel guru Scot McCloughan both attending Brooks' Pro Day workout before the Niners flew Brooks into team headquarters for an extended personal visit last month.

To be sure, they had all the data they needed to know about Brooks. And in the final analysis, they decided it didn't add up to a third-round pick.

So using the third-rounder that it would have taken to land Brooks would have meant risk for a team that certainly must take some chances in personnel moves – via the draft, free agency or trades – to upgrade its lack of talent, which still is viewed by many as among the very worst in the league.

Since the risk associated with Brooks offered the potential for such high reward – big, talented linebackers are essential to the Niners' 3-4 defensive system, and Brooks has the ability to play both inside or outside in that system – the 49ers, who have been playing it close to the vest virtually the entire 2006 offseason, should have pulled the trigger and burned a third-rounder on a player that could prove to be worth much more.

But Brooks just as easily could become a headache the 49ers don't need. And given the way he faded during his junior season, then flamed out during a dubious winter/spring in which he finally was booted off the team by Virginia coach Al Groh, this could be another example of the Nolan regime displaying wisdom, foresight and prudence in making the right call on a player who could go either way.

Sometimes, you have to take risks in the NFL. Sometimes, you're much better off if you don't. Like a lot of issues and decisions currently hovering over the 49ers, only time will tell if they made the right move. It's no different with their non-move to secure Ahmad Brooks.

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