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Some mixed signals

Opinions varied on the top QBs

There have been so many misses with can't-miss quarterbacks in the NFL Draft that there is a reluctance to use that label.

But a disinclination to tag a signal-caller a star-to-be is one thing; not drafting him No. 1 overall is another.

Most mock drafts have quarterbacks Alex Smith of Utah and Aaron Rodgers of California being among the top five picks April 23, with one likely going to San Francisco, which has the first pick, and the other to Cleveland, which has the third.

The 49ers are looking for something special. (And someone who'll agree to a contract before the selection is made.)

"That's the key position," San Francisco coach Mike Nolan said. "I think every team would say that. It's that simple because that is the go-to guy."

Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi, whose team chose North Carolina State's Philip Rivers fourth overall last year, then traded for Eli Manning, the No. 1 overall pick, said even comparison and assessment of quarterbacks are different than other positions.

"I don't think you can really evaluate it like other positions because athleticism is important, there's no question about it, but the magic to me is more important," Accorsi said.

While probably every team in the league would love to find a Tom Brady in the sixth round, the standard is to find your franchise guy with an early choice.

However, mistakes with the No. 1 pick can be costly.

San Francisco has worked out Smith and Rodgers extensively and talked to just about everyone from childhood Sunday school teachers to former baby sitters, to avoid drafting the next Ryan Leaf.

Remember, there was once a raging debate over whether Peyton Manning or Leaf would be the better quarterback. Manning averaged more than three touchdowns a game last season with the Colts. Leaf, who hasn't played in the league since 2002, averaged less than three touchdowns a season in five tumultuous years.

Smith, who graduated from Utah in only two years, but stayed on campus long enough to lead the Utes to a perfect record in 2004, is a good athlete. And scouts point to his intelligence as a positive indicator of how he'll adjust to the league.

"If you look at the NFL today, especially the quarterback position, you've got to be smart," Smith said. "You've got to be. And I think I bring that to the table.

"You've got to have the intangibles. You can't just be athletic. You've got to have it all. It's mental as much as anything else. I think I'll be able to adjust very, very quickly to the NFL. Especially mentally."

Some teams are skeptical of Rodgers because he played in a system under Jeff Tedford that produces players who put up big numbers in college but mostly average NFL results. But under Tedford's tutelage, Rodgers has developed sound mechanics -- better than Smith, according to most NFL scouts -- solid leadership skills, and a good arm. Published reports in the Bay Area this week have the 49ers leaning toward the local product.

"I think my numbers speak for themselves," Rodgers said. "Physically, I think I'm as athletic as [former California and current Baltimore QB] Kyle Boller was when he came out. My arm strength is adequate. My fundamentals are there, I think I have all the intangibles as well."

As you might imagine, former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, the new head coach in Cleveland who could have to decide if he wants the 49ers leftovers, served up the best coachspeak dish on the issue.

"Well, what we do is we evaluate it all and see if the value on the quarterback, if he has enough value, then we'll take him, and if he doesn't have enough value then we won't take him," Crennel said.

While Smith and Rodgers are clearly the two highest-rated quarterbacks, Auburn's Jason Campbell could prove to be the year's top bargain, particularly if he lasts into the third round.

Charlie Frye of Akron looks to continue the recent success of Mid-American Conference quarterbacks (Chad Pennington, Byron Leftwich, and Ben Roethlisberger).

Perhaps the most intriguing prospect is former Florida State star Adrian McPherson, who played fewer than two seasons with the Seminoles before being dismissed from the team amid legal troubles that included being charged with gambling on college games.

McPherson, the Arena Football League rookie of the year last season, is an exceptional athlete -- he was a top basketball recruit in high school -- and he has what is known in the scouting fraternity as "huge upside."

The Patriots are set with one of the league's best, Brady, but the team's backups are unproven and unspectacular, so a mid- to late-round pick is a possibility if the right player slips.

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