To draft or deal?

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:12 AM ET

It is little wonder that for weeks the San Francisco 49ers have mused about dealing the top pick in today's NFL draft. Little wonder as well that the Miami Dolphins have been making noise about doing the same with No. 2.

Welcome to the annual crapshoot that is the NFL draft where this year the dice apparently aren't loaded enough for the high rollers at the front of the line.

Yes, the 49ers are in bad, even desperate need of a quarterback. And, yes, a pair of them are considered to be near the top of this year's less-than-inspiring draft class.

Yes, the Dolphins are in dire need of a running back to replace Ricky Williams. And, yes, Auburn's Ronnie Brown, the consensus top back, is willing and available.

So what's the problem? Brown and quarterbacks Alex Smith of Utah and Aaron Rodgers of Cal are seen as average at best. And average doesn't cut it when huge contracts and signing bonuses are the price that go with the top handful of picks.

"I can't remember a year where there's been such a lack of consensus in terms of where people belong or where they'll go," Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian said this week. "It's unsettling at the top, obviously, and it makes it doubly unsettling at the bottom, where we are."

More often than not, having the top pick for any pro draft is more of a blessing of good fortune. In this year's NFL cattle-call, it looks more like a curse.

The conundrum facing the 49ers is whether they get sucked into the vortex of selecting a quarterback first overall. Do they look at other positions? Or do they trade down to avoid the disaster of having a No. 1 pick go bust?

There is certainly pressure to draft a quarterback, especially for a team that spawned Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Steve Young. It's the in thing too, with six of the past seven top picks have been quarterbacks including Eli Manning (2004) Peyton Manning ('98) and Michael Vick ('01).

Last season also saw the emergence of Ben Roethlisberger, a later first-round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers. And another first-rounder, J.P. Losman, will be the starter for the Buffalo Bills come September.

The popular view around the league, however, is that neither Smith nor Rodgers would have gone in the first round a year ago. And what about USC quarterback Matt Leinart's decision to stay in school? The Heisman Trophy winner would have been a surefire No. 1 if he had decided to turn pro.

So, will the 49ers opt to suck it up and draft Smith (which seems to be their lean among the top two) or deal?

"I wouldn't say I'm leaning any way," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "I'm very confident that I'll be pleased with the first-round pick if we take it."

Then there are the Dolphins. If first-year coach Nick Saban doesn't believe in Brown, why should anyone? As the former coach at Louisiana State, Saban knows a thing or 12 about available college talent, especially in the south.

"Just because you have the second pick in the draft doesn't mean it's surefire," Saban said. "Everything is time and circumstance. We can only take the best player available."

All the speculation and double-talk needs a disclaimer, of course. The 49ers and Dolphins wouldn't be the first NFL teams to at least attempt to dupe the competition into believing they have no interest in anybody on the board.

Both teams -- and the Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns who are next in line -- will answer all calls once the draft begins today at noon.

They may be waiting for a while, especially with most GMs sticking to the belief that value lies later in the first round.

"We've had people wanting to know whether we want to go into the top 10," said Polian, whose team doesn't get a pick until 29th overall. "That answer to that is 'No.' "


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