"The other thing as Alex at the time was a good kid -- a very good person, a safe choice, always trying to please," former 49ers coach Mike Nolan said Tuesday morning on NFL HQ. "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."
Nolan, who coached the 49ers from 2005 to 2008, owned up to his decision as he has done a few times over the years. As the draft approaches, he serves as a cautionary tale for head coaches selecting between two different but skilled prospects at the top of the order. Jeff Fisher (Rams) and Doug Pederson (Eagles) have that unenviable task on Thursday night in deciding between Jared Goff and Carson Wentz.
"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."
Honestly, we should give the poor guy a break. The draft is a wildly inexact science and Smith was coming from a program and offense that no one knew what to make of at Utah yet. In an oral history of the 2011 draft released Tuesday, Sports Illustrated talked to a litany of insiders and executives about one of the best draft classes we've ever seen. One interviewee said that the knock on J.J. Watt was that he couldn't handle double teams. There were clubs who thought Julio Jones was too slow.
Now, obviously, Nolan is recognizing that those traits in Rodgers made him great. But sitting behind Favre, playing in an imaginative offense and having organizational stability didn't hurt, either.
It will be considered one of the great organizational blunders, but what might have happened if Smith found himself in a better environment off the bat? What might have happened if Nolan had a better understanding of the culture he'd need to create in San Francisco? Smith came alive under former 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and is a stable presence in Andy Reid's offense in Kansas City. After a decade in the NFL, it's clear Smith wasn't as good as Rodgers. But he wasn't bad, either.