Rodgers is top dog now

While Alex Smith was the No. 1 pick, Aaron Rodgers is in better position to have a successful career.

If the 2005 NFL draft was held again and the San Francisco 49ers had to choose between quarterbacks Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers, whom would they pick?

I know who they would pick if it could be a player at any position: San Diego's Shawne Merriman, taken 12th overall. Also, Braylon Edwards would be considered, the third pick by Cleveland.

Nevertheless, they are not on the board for this pick.

Three years ago, it was Smith, who starred in Urban Meyer's colorful offense at Utah. Meanwhile, Rodgers dropped in the draft until the Packers picked him up at No. 24.

Since, their careers have gone in different directions. Smith is fighting to remain a starter, and won't start Saturday when the Packers visit. Instead, it will be J.T. O'Sullivan, that guy thrown in the Mike McKenzie trade between the Packers and Saints in 2004. That's all you need to know about Smith's progress. There hasn't been any.

Meanwhile, Rodgers is finally playing after watching Brett Favre for three years. He lacks the experience Smith has gained, but it can be argued he's a better prospect now.

This situation is a perfect argument for those who think quarterbacks should sit and watch instead of playing right away, especially for a bad team.

When you're picked No. 1, regardless of position, you're expected to be the face of the franchise and a Pro Bowl player. Smith is neither. He has done nothing to warrant his pick through three seasons.

If he continues down this path, his selection will cost the 49ers years on their rebuilding project and force them to start over again. It shows how tender picking No. 1 can be. Miss, and it'll cost you dearly.

Smith's not alone, but when you're a quarterback picked No. 1, it's a more high-profile situation.

San Francisco says all the right things about Smith, but the proof is in his play. He hasn't been good. Some of that is not Smith's doing. Has San Francisco gone out and found a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver for him? They drafted tight end Vernon Davis in 2007, but that's it.

A young quarterback needs weapons, and Smith has none. This shouldn't be a surprise for those who follow the NFL. The 49ers are the same team that fired Steve Mariucci after he was 59-41 from 1997 to 2002. Since, the Niners have forged a 23-41 record.

The Santa Clara Press Democrat has gone as far to say Smith could be released. The paper admitted it's unlikely to happen, but added it shows how unimpressed the 49ers are with Smith's lack of understanding of the offense they have put in this offseason via Mike Martz.

While Smith seems headed down the road of former No. 1 picks like Tim Couch and David Carr, Rodgers has been forced to sit, and although he hasn't liked sitting, he's in a far better spot than Smith.

Rodgers is on a team that was 13-3 last season, used its top pick on a wide receiver (Jordy Nelson) and has two starters who can top 1,000 yards this season in Donald Driver and Greg Jennings. Furthermore, No. 3 receiver James Jones had 45 catches as a rookie.

Rodgers has been put in a position to succeed. While Favre was playing his final seasons in Green Bay, GM Ted Thompson was drafting with the idea Rodgers will need help when he becomes the starter.

He has it, and seems poised to be a solid starting quarterback this season.

Rodgers' spot was easier to deal with than Smith's. Rodgers didn't have to play right away, didn't have to learn the offense in a summer, could watch a Hall of Famer play and has had good coaching.

Smith and Rodgers will be linked forever because of draft day and being the top quarterbacks picked in 2005. That drama of falling 23 spots behind Smith in the first round might have been as fun as getting blindsided by a 300-pound defensive end, but it sure beats what Smith has endured.

Rodgers, whose rookie contract was worth $40 million less than Smith's, was asked if he'd like to change places with Smith and go back to 2005.

"I wouldn't trade with him because I love the situation that I'm in," Rodgers said. "Obviously, it would have been fun to play. But there are so many advantages to waiting like I did. And obviously the situation I was in, being behind Brett and being able to acquire all the knowledge that I could from him, and at the same time come along at kind of my own pace without a lot of pressure on me, I think it was definitely an advantage."

So, Rodgers is happy being the 24th pick in the 2005 draft, not No. 1. And if he plays as well as the Packers believe he will, that $40 million can be made up.

Doug Ritchay is a frequent contributor to He has covered the Packers since 1993. E-mail him at

Packer Report Top Stories