Former San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Nolan said Tuesday morning during a discussion on the NFL Network the decision to draft Alex Smith with the No. 1 overall pick in 2005 was the “safe” choice over a “cocky” and “arrogant” Aaron Rodgers.
The discussion and decision process was explained during a segment in which Washington Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan was present — in 2005, McCloughan was serving as the 49ers vice president of player personnel.
Nolan admitted the decision to draft Smith instead of the Super Bowl champion Rodgers was the wrong decision during the segment.
“Basically, we thought in the long term that Alex Smith would be the better choice than Aaron,” Nolan said. “It was one of those, maybe, paralysis by analysis. We had so much time to think about it.
“We put a lot of stock in changing Aaron’s throwing style. We also got caught up a little bit in that Alex was so mobile. That was a good thing. But in the end, we felt Alex would be the better long-time guy. Obviously, we were wrong in that thought process.”
Ultimately, personality differences between the two became an extremely mitigating factor in the decision, Nolan said.
“The other thing as Alex at the time was a good kid – a very good person, a safe choice, always trying to please,” he said. “On the other hand, Aaron was very cocky, very confident, arrogant. So you can say, ‘Why didn’t you take him to begin with?’ Because that’s really what your best quarterbacks look like. They aren’t very pleasing. They aren’t very safe.
“And as time has showed, that’s really how Alex plays. He doesn’t turn the ball over. He’s very secure with the ball. And on the other hand, Aaron is a slinger. He’s all over the place and makes great, big plays. Obviously, he’ll be a Hall of Fame player one day.”
San Francisco isn’t alone in the pack of teams who missed out on drafting Rodgers’ services — though he was selected in the first round, it wasn’t until pick No. 24 that he landed in Green Bay. A decade later, the 32-year-old has been selected to five Pro Bowls, twice named NFL MVP, and of course captured gold in Super Bowl XLV.
“We would’ve chosen Aaron,” Nolan said vehemently during the interview if there was anything he would do differently.
However, he did pay tribute to Smith for the success he’s found under Jim Harbaugh and Andy Reid. He said one of the biggest mistakes he and his staff made was trying to use Smith in a prototypical offense as a pocket passer.
“But I will say in all fairness to Alex, what he’s doing today, it would’ve been nice if we’d done that,” Nolan said. “What they do at Kansas City with Andy Reid, running the zone read, using his legs as well as his arm, having a very strong defense, if we’d built it that way, we’ would’ve had a better chance to be successful.
“As it was, we put him into a prototypical offense, tried to make him into a pocket quarterback. That’s really not what Alex is. He’s doing what he’s doing best right now, and that’s why he plays well right now. He helps their football team win. Obviously, Aaron has greatness in him. Alex is a good, solid performer.”
David Barclay is the 49ers Insider for byteclay.com. He is a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Email, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter, @DJamesIII