Perils of the NFL draft

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:59 AM ET

The modern NFL draft has exploded into a cottage industry, an off-season flashpoint for football experts to pontificate and sell expensive draft preview magazines. It can also expose, right there on live television, the cruel and calculated underside of the cut-throat NFL culture.

Under the bright lights of ESPN yesterday, Aaron Rodgers was the high-profile public victim of bloated expectations.

As recent as two weeks ago, Rodgers was projected as a near-consensus first pick overall and a certain top three. When the San Francisco 49ers opted for a different quarterback, Alex Smith of Utah, to start the draft, the queasiness began.

Rodgers eventually would get the call, almost five hours and 23 picks later when the Green Bay Packers finally showed some mercy and called the Cal quarterback's name.

The heartbreak of Rodgers aside, the first round of this year's entry session largely went as projected.

The Miami Dolphins followed the 49ers and filled their most pressing need with Auburn running back, Ronnie Brown. Michigan wide receiver Braylon Edwards went third overall to Cleveland and a pair of running backs -- Cedric Benson of Texas to Chicago and Carnell (Cadillac) Williams, also of Auburn, to Tampa Bay -- rounded out the top five.

But by not being picked until the shadowy stages of the first round, Rodgers unwittingly emerged as the story of Day 1.

Even though scouts and general managers had poured buckets of cold water on the quarterback pool, Rodgers still was pegged to go in the top three of most mock drafts.

But there is too much on the line -- both in money and expectations -- for NFL teams to be bludgeoned into picking a player they don't want just because draft preview experts rank them high.

"I haven't changed anything over the past few weeks," a rattled but gracious Rodgers said after falling out of the top 10. "It's just the perception of me that has changed.

"It wasn't the easiest day. I'm just excited about going to a team that wants me."

In Smith, meanwhile, first-year 49ers coach Mike Nolan feels he got value. What else is he going to say?

"He brings discipline, competitiveness and intelligence to the table," Nolan said of Smith. "He's off the chart in all three."

Some other observations from a first round that took an aching five hours and 47 minutes to complete:

- For the first time, three running backs were selected in the top five picks. The explanation is fairly simple: In a class where the value was expected to come after the top 10 picks, running backs are low risk.

With a quarterback, particularly in this crop, there's no guarantee. Defensive players often need some work as well, but many running backs can play right away.

- The Detroit Lions provided the first bona fide shocker when they opted for USC wide receiver Mike Williams. That made the Lions the first team in NFL history to pick a receiver in the first round in three consecutive years.

In 2003, the Lions selected Charles Rogers and last year took Roy Williams. Both of those projected studs have had injury troubles since.

The message from this is clear: Quarterback Joey Harrington no longer has excuses, especially with veteran Jeff Garcia waiting in the wings.

- One reason why NFL scouts were underwhelmed with the high end of the draft: Smith was a college starter for just two years while Brown, who went second overall, was backup to Williams, who went fifth. That kind of inexperience is difficult to project into the type of stardom a team usually hopes for with a top-five pick.

THE FIRST ROUND

1. San Francisco, Alex Smith, qb, Utah.

2. Miami, Ronnie Brown, rb, Auburn.

3. Cleveland, Braylon Edwards, wr, Michigan.

4. Chicago, Cedric Benson, rb, Texas.

5. Tampa Bay, Carnell Williams, rb, Auburn.

6. Tennessee, Adam Jones, db, West Virginia.

7. Minnesota (from Oakland), Troy Williamson, wr, South Carolina.

8. Arizona, Antrel Rolle, db, Miami.

9. Washington, Carlos Rogers, db, Auburn.

10. Detroit, Mike Williams, wr, Southern Cal.

11. Dallas, DeMarcus Ware, de, Troy.

12. San Diego (from N.Y. Giants), Shawne Merriman, lb, Maryland.

13. New Orleans (from Houston), Jammal Brown, ot, Oklahoma.

14. Carolina, Thomas Davis, db, Georgia.

15. Kansas City, Derrick Johnson, lb, Texas.

16. Houston (from New Orleans), Travis Johnson, dt, Florida State.

17. Cincinnati, David Pollack, lb, Georgia.

18. Minnesota, Erasmus James, de, Wisconsin.

19. St. Louis, Alex Barron, ot, Florida State.

20. Dallas (from Buffalo), Marcus Spears, de, LSU.

21. Jacksonville, Matt Jones, wr, Arkansas.

22. Baltimore, Mark Clayton, wr, Oklahoma.

23. Oakland (from Seattle), Fabian Washington, db, Nebraska.

24. Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers, qb, California.

25. Washington (from Denver), Jason Campbell, qb, Auburn.

26. Seattle (from N.Y. Jets through Oakland), Chris Spencer, c, Mississippi.

27. Atlanta, Roddy White, wr, UAB.

28. San Diego, Luis Castillo, dt, Northwestern.

29. Indianapolis, Marlin Jackson, db, Michigan.

30. Pittsburgh, Heath Miller, te, Virginia.

31. Philadelphia, Mike Patterson, dt, Southern Cal.

32. New England, Logan Mankins, g, Fresno State.


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