Nolan has folks guessing on team's choice

Updated: May 12, 2005, 3:16 PM ET
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Nolan is holding his card close.

He sat with 49ers beat writers Thursday and polled them on what he was going to do. Some said the Niners would draft Utah quarterback Alex Smith. Some said Michigan receiver Braylon Edwards. Some said California quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Others said that Nolan would trade the pick.

Nolan isn't saying. He said Thursday that he hasn't told anybody in the organization or his family the answer. For the good of the organization, Nolan is trying to preserve the value of the pick. That drama may continue minutes into the selection Saturday.

Unlike most drafts of late, Nolan is bringing drama. He insists that nobody knows. The answer will come Saturday at around 12:15 p.m. ET when the 49ers hand in the card or hand the pick to another team. The problem is the confusion his mystery is causing over the draft.

Until Thursday, everybody not named Mike Nolan seemed to think Smith would be the choice even though he won't have a pre-draft contract agreement. However, things have shifted. Smith thought he'd fall to No. 2 and go to Tampa Bay. Braylon Edwards starting hearing the word he might be the No. 1 pick. Rodgers didn't know one way or another.

Of course all of this could be meaningless if the pick is traded. If you like drama and unpredictability, you'll like this draft. While it's a draft that isn't filled with headliners, Nolan's poker game and his poker face is keeping everyone guessing.

Aaron Rodgers
Getty ImagesA big, accurate arm should make Aaron Rodgers a first-round pick.

1. The Aaron Rodgers factor: If the 49ers don't select the Cal quarterback, Rodgers' first-round future will be like a "Where's Waldo?" game. He could fall and he could fall dramatically. The Dolphins could take him at No. 2 and they admit making a mistake trading for A.J. Feeley (from Philadelphia for this year's second-round pick) last year, but Dolphins coach Nick Saban will need a lot of extra draft choices to swallow that impact. How would you like to start a new job knowing your first two draft choices were quarterbacks? The Browns, Bears and Cardinals won't take Rodgers. The Bucs at No. 5 and Titans at No. 6 could take him but don't count on it. Rodgers, as amazing as it sounds, could fall into the middle of the first round. In some mock drafts, Rodgers could fall all the way to Green Bay at No. 24. Ouch! If he does fall into the teens, some team would have to rescue him by trading into the first round from the second -- possibly using a first-round pick next year -- but it could be a stressful day for Rodgers.

2. The Browns' concerns: Poor Cleveland. They finally rid themselves of Butch Davis and all seemed to be great with Phil Savage at general manager and Romeo Crennel at coach. They've had a quiet offseason, clearing out bad high draft choices of the past and slowly putting in Crennel's type of players. However, panic shot through the office this week. What do the Browns do if Alex Smith and Braylon Edwards are gone? The alternatives aren't good. The Browns need defense but they would be reaching for players who could be taken much later if Savage can't make a trade, and the Browns can't trade the No. 3 pick if Smith and Edwards are gone. Savage is talking trade back scenarios and not liking what he's heard. He's even considering trading up to No. 2, but that would be the second consecutive year the team moved up a spot to get the player it wanted. Savage obviously can't pull a Butch Davis and give up a second-round pick to move up. Davis did it a year ago for tight end Kellen Winslow. Savage needs the second-round pick to get a quarterback if he can't get Smith, but the Dolphins might drive a hard bargain and force him to give up a second-rounder for the quarterback. Savage isn't going to take Rodgers at No. 3 after being with Kyle Boller, another former Cal quarterback, the past couple years in Baltimore. He likes Smith better. If the draft goes the wrong way for the Browns, they may have to just take a defensive player such as Adam "Pac-Man" Jones, Shawne Merriman or David Pollack and stun those watching the draft.

3. Hard-bargaining Nick Saban: Saban wants to make a deal. He wants to make a lot of deals, and he's already causing a stir. Mike Nolan keeps hearing how teams keep calling the Dolphins and not the 49ers on trade possibilities and he's puzzled. After all, Nolan tells teams: you don't know who will be at No. 2 until you find out who we take, so call ahead of the Dolphins. Still, teams keep calling the Dolphins because the No. 2 pick is cheaper to pay than No. 1 and the price of moving up isn't as expensive. For Edwards at No. 2, the Dolphins are dealing with the Browns and Redskins. The Vikings pulled back on trade-up scenarios but might jump back in if the price was right. The Bucs and Browns are calling up for No. 2. Saban wants as many second-round picks as he can acquire. His phone number is …

4. Getting defensive: Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil wants defensive help. He'd love to take Georgia's versatile defender Thomas Davis and make him a linebacker. He'd love to get a pass rusher like David Pollack of Georgia. And now that the Chiefs have finally worked out a deal for Dolphins cornerback Patrick Surtain, there's a good chance they'll address a need in their front 7.

Jason Campbell
Jason Campbell is one of the draft's fast-rising prospects.

5. Multiple picks: The Vikings, Chargers, Redskins and Cowboys each have two first-round picks. The Chargers and Redskins could be major traders in the first round. The Vikings were tempted by trade-up possibilities, but now might trade back from No. 7. The Vikings should come up with a wide receiver, Mike Williams or Troy Williamson. The Redskins can go for cornerback Carlos Rogers and maybe a quarterback, Jason Campbell, or they could also package the picks and move up for Edwards at wide receiver. The Chargers are targeting a receiver and a defensive pass rusher, but they have the leverage to move up for Williams or Williamson and maybe trade for a veteran pass-rusher. One possibility -- Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice. The Cowboys could fill out their defense with a linebacker -- Shawne Merriman or Demarcus Ware -- and a defensive end, Marcus Spears of LSU, but they still have the chance to make a trade with New Orleans for defensive end Darren Howard.

6. Trades: A lot of big names are available in trades. The Cardinals are talking to the Bills about halfback Travis Henry. The Seahawks still have long-shot hopes of moving halfback Shaun Alexander. The Raiders can't find a trade partner for cornerback Charles Woodson, but they will keep trying. The Chargers are targeting a veteran defensive end. The Redskins are about to pull wide receiver Rod Gardner off the market and keep him as their third receiver. Guys who aren't on the market are Colts halfback Edgerrin James and Jets defensive end John Abraham.

7. The 3-4 and 4-3 confusion: With teams adjusting to 3-4 defensive schemes, ratings are different for front-seven people and that could cause major surprises in where players go. Take Texas linebacker Derrick Johnson as an example. He's the type of playmaking linebacker defensive coordinators dream about. But he may not be as good in a 4-3 because he runs around blocks. Some 4-3 coaches think he's a second-rounder but he could be the first defensive player taken in the draft for those that love his style. Erasmus James is the perfect 4-3 defensive end, but the Cowboys, Chargers and Texans draft in the area in which the defensive front-seven type players are available in abundance, so he and Johnson could fall if those teams draft front-seven defenders who better fit their systems.

8. Need draft: Need drafts make general managers picky. There are plenty of running backs, wide receivers, defensive ends and cornerbacks and every team has different ratings at the top six at each position. Good luck figuring out every team's list because it makes it hard to guess where players will go. There are three quality offensive tackles -- Alex Barron, Jammal Brown and Khalif Barnes -- and they may spark trade talks for teams valuing their services. Meanwhile, the abundance of running backs will let teams skip taking one in a certain round knowing there are good ones available later. There may not be a lot of trades in the top 10, but the bulk of the first-round trades will happen between No. 9 and No. 28.

9. Weird positioning: The top four teams in the draft have defensive coaches and they will be picking offensive players. That's a little strange. The offensive coaches will be picking in areas in which the defensive players should be drafted. Most mock drafts have two quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith), three halfbacks (Cedric Benson, Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown) and three receivers (Braylon Edwards, Mike Williams and Troy Williamson) going in the top 10. Eight offensive players in the top 10 seems strange, but those are the ratings. With Mike Nolan, Nick Saban, Romeo Crennel and Lovie Smith at the top of the draft, it wouldn't be a surprise if moves are made to get defensive players to San Francisco, Miami and Cleveland with Cleveland being the wildest card. Don't be surprise if the Bucs do something on defense.

10. The wild bottom of the first: It's already been crazy at the bottom of the first round with the Jets and Broncos trading out of their slots. The Chargers will probably follow. Other picks are up for bid. The Panthers, for example, believe it's almost better to have four second-rounders compared to one first-rounder, so don't expect fast picks. Everyone should take their 15 minutes in the first round because they know there will be trades and options. This could be the longest first round in NFL history.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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