Smith light years ahead of Rodgers

Two QBs from same draft class have traveled different paths

Sunday's game between the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers could've been a game featuring the top two quarterbacks drafted in the 2005 draft. However, Brett Favre returned this season to Green Bay and his backup, Aaron Rodgers, is out for the season with a broken foot. Therefore, Favre will match up against the 49ers' Alex Smith, who edged Rodgers out during pre-draft workouts to be the top pick in 2005.

Rodgers then plummeted to No. 24 where the Packers picked up him to be Favre's eventual successor. That is on hold maybe for another year, depending if Favre returns in 2007.

So while Rodgers has perfected the art of holding a clipboard in his first two seasons, Smith has experienced first-hand what it's like to be an NFL quarterback. After starting seven games last season and and throwing 1 TD pass compared to 11 INTs, Smith has progressed this season. He has tossed 12 TDs and 12 INTs, while compiling a passer rating of 76.3 (19th in the NFL). Favre is 21st at 75.5. Furthermore, the 49ers have won more games this season than last. It doesn't hurt that Frank Gore has emerged as one of the NFC's top running backs, either.

Smith and Rodgers will be tied to each other because of their draft-day status. It's possible if the 49ers picked Rodgers first in the draft Smith would've been Favre's backup. How their lives would be different. During his rookie season, Smith was criticized for basically stinking up the joint. At Utah, Smith ran Urban Meyer's wide-open offense, which had Smith in the shotgun a lot. Because of that, some questioned if he could adpat to the NFL and playing under center. One season into his career, there were questions, but as Smith's numbers suggest, he has made strides. Last year, under offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy (now the Packers head coach), the 49ers' offense ranked dead last. When you're a rookie quarterback with no skilled playeres surrounding you, this happens. McCarthy had little to work with.

However, a quarterback's best friend is a good running back (just ask Philip Rivers in San Diego how it is playing with LaDainian Tomlinson). Gore has balanced the 49ers and made Smith's job easier.

It can be argued Smith is one of the up-and-coming QBs in the NFL. Him being drafted by the 49ers has him light years ahead of Rodgers, who could sit his first three seasons.

When the Packers drafted Rodgers, the pick was met with mixed feelings. His addition wasn't going to help the Packers immediately, and then-coach Mike Sherman needed the help.

Also, coming from California, where coach Jeff Tedford is, raised eyebrows. Rodgers follows QBs coached by Tedford who never lived up to their draft status, including fellow first-rounders Joey Harrington and Akili Smith.

Although the pick made sense, not knowing how long Favre would play, would the pick ever pay off? That's debatable now. Rodgers has struggled in cameo appearances, although that should not decide his future in Green Bay. He deserves what Smith got — an opportunity to prepare during an off-season to be a starter. That way there's no debate if he can or cannot play.

However, Rodgers broke his foot Nov. 19 against New England and won't be even practicing until the off-season and those are minicamps where quarterbacks hardly get tested.

As Rodgers watches Sunday's game, he has to be wondering what could've been. Here's a QB in the 49ers' backyard, who would've been a popular pick at least locally. He had a good college career. However, the Niners went with Smith, who ran a quirky offense in college. At this point, it has proven to be the right move. Smith is gaining valuable experience while leading the 49ers back up the ladder in the NFL, albeit slowly.

Because of where Rodgers is, you wonder if he'll ever get a real chance in Green Bay to try to do what Smith is accomplishing. Favre is standing in his way and if it's for another season you wonder if Rodgers will ever get the chance to prove he, not Smith, should've been the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft.

Doug Ritchay

Doug Ritchay is a longtime sportswriter and former Packers beat writer for the Green Bay News-Chronicle. E-mail at

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