Former 49ers coach Mike Nolan said the decision was made to go with the safe pick in quarterback Alex Smith over “cocky” and “arrogant” Aaron Rodgers with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft.
Nolan revisited the thinking of the 49ers’ decision-makers, including general manager Scot McCloughan, during a guest appearance Tuesday morning on the NFL Network.
“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.”
The personality of the two players also played a part in swaying 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,” Nolan 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.”
The 49ers were not the only team to miss on Rodgers, who went undrafted in 23 slots before the Green Bay Packers selected him. Rodgers is a five-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time league MVP, to go along with one Super Bowl MVP. One of the 49ers coaches with a voice in the decision was then-coordinator Mike McCarthy, who has thrived in 10 seasons as Packers coach with Rodgers.
When asked what he would do differently, Nolan stated the obvious.
“We would’ve chosen Aaron,” Nolan said.
Smith has forged a good career after a rough start with the 49ers. A shoulder injury limited him to seven games in 2007 and he missed the entire 2008 season. Smith had six different coordinators in his first six NFL seasons. After experiencing success under Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman for 1 1/2 seasons, Smith was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013.
“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.”