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2005 Rookie QBs: Smith Best Bet Among Fantasy Prospects...
This is the first in a four-part series in which I'll be reviewing the top prospects selected in the 2005 NFL Draft from a strictly Fantasy perspective.

I'll get the ball rolling by reviewing what in my estimation are the top-five quarterbacks selected last weekend, ranking them in terms of potential impact.

But first, I'll remind you one more time. ... These are quarterbacks.

Meaning, the chances any of them will be high-end Fantasy producers this season -- even those who start -- are slim at best. But immediate impact notwithstanding, all are certainly viable prospects in Dynasty leagues with some being of interest to those taking part in keeper leagues, where the number of returning prospects are limited each season.

Again, players are listed in the order I like them. You'll also find a Fantasy Bottom Line regarding each prospect's likely 2005 contribution and long-term potential.

With the conventions out of the way, here you have 'em:

1. Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers
As San Jose Mercury News columnist Ann Killion so aptly put it, "Thus ends the Tim Rattay era."

Killion went on to concede that new head coach Mike Nolan says he isn't going to hand the starting job to Smith, but pointed out the team is already pushing tickets based on the new draft pick in ads that tease: "In 25 years you'll want to say 'I saw his first game.'"

Well. ... That might be a bit of a reach, but Smith is clearly the most likely of this year's incoming rookie QBs to start.

This contention is based not only on his status as the first pick overall, but also on the lackluster level of competition -- Rattay and Ken Dorsey -- he'll face in camp this summer.

In an article published just before the draft, Sports Illustrated insider Peter King advised readers that team officials "love Smith's personality, his moxie and his athleticism, and they think he'll morph into a good dropback quarterback -- even though he played from the shotgun during two starting seasons at Utah."

And therein lies the big question: Is Smith really ready to handle the starting assignment?

According to Pro Football Weekly, receivers Brandon Lloyd and Arnaz Battle weren't all that impressed with the passes thrown to them by Smith in an early-April private workout in Salt Lake City. Both receivers reportedly believe that Rattay has a better arm than Smith.

Smith must also prove he can learn the West Coast scheme the Niners will use this fall. But Nolan clearly believes the newcomer has what it takes to excel at the pro level.

"We felt that Alex was the one that most fit what we want our team to look like," the coach said. "He brings discipline, competitiveness and intelligence to the table. He is off the charts in all three areas."

In fact, ESPN's Sal Paolantonio reported last Sunday that the 49ers have been shopping Rattay, lending further credence to the notion that Nolan believes Smith is capable of starting from day one.

I agree. ... As long as contract negotiations don't get in the way.

Fortunately, Smith plans to move to the Bay Area within the next couple weeks and insists that he "absolutely" will be in attendance when the team holds a three-day mini-camp starting May 6. Of course, he won't have to be under contract to participate in the mini-camp, but he will have to be signed before taking part in summer training camp.

Both Nolan and Smith said they expect the deal to get done.

"It is absolutely vital," Smith said. "I think those repetitions, especially for a young quarterback, are invaluable and you cannot replace those. If I expect to be the player I can be, I have to be a part of that. Obviously a lot of it will be dealing with my agent and the team, but it's something that I expect will get done. If there's anything I can do to make it happen, I will."

Fantasy Bottom Line: Look for Smith, who graduated after only two years of college with a bachelor's degree in Economics (with a 3.74 grade-point average) and is currently pursuing his master's degree, to make short work of playbook, sign his contract in a timely manner and nail down the starting job well before the regular-season opener.

Then watch him struggle to overcome a supporting cast that is still a season or two away from giving him the help necessary to take full advantage of this abilities.

2. Charlie Frye, Cleveland Browns
According to Cleveland Plain Dealer staff writer Mary Kay Cabot, general manager Phil Savage said he was thrilled to get Frye in the third round, with the 67th overall pick, "because we didn't have to reach or trade up to get him. He was the next best player on our board."

Savage admitted that the Browns had their eye on Auburn's Jason Campbell, who went No. 25 to Washington (see below).

He said they contemplated trading up for both Campbell and California's Aaron Rodgers, who slipped to Green Bay at No. 24 (see below). "Sometimes things in the draft are meant to be, and this is one of them," Savage said.

Indeed, Savage wasted little time in making room for Frye on the depth chart, shipping Luke McCown off the Buccaneers Sunday in exchange for a sixth-round pick. That leaves starter-to-be Trent Dilfer and Josh Harris as the remaining quarterbacks on the roster.

For what it's worth, Savage had his staff watch college film of McCown and Harris and make up phantom draft cards to insert into this year's draft board. When they did so, Frye, who played his college ball 30 miles down the road from Cleveland Browns Stadium, was ranked ahead of both.

While some observers question Frye's arm strength, Savage said the arm "is strong enough." According to the Sports Xchange, the Browns believe Frye is a gamer who is at his best in crucial situations.

Given the success of other MAC quarterbacks Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich, both from Marshall, and Ben Roethlisberger from Miami of Ohio, Frye believes he can follow in their footsteps after an impressive career at Akron.

While it's hoped that Dilfer's presence will give Frye at least a year to develop, the 34-year old veteran hasn't played a full 16-game season since 1998 and as Frye himself suggested, you never know what can happen.

"[Roethlisberger] was going to sit out all year, then Tommy Maddox got hurt," Frye said. "If you don't think [you can become a starter], then what are you trying to do? It's about preparing, working hard and setting goals. I can't wait to get started."

Fantasy Bottom Line: Frye appears to be as ready as any signal caller in this year's crop to move into the starting lineup if the opportunity arises. And even if Dilfer remains upright throughout 2005, I suspect he'll have a hard time keeping a more developed Frye off the field in 2006.

3. Jason Campbell, Washington Redskins
As King framed it Tuesday morning, "In three straight years, Washington has gone from one quarterback of the future to a quarterback for two or three years to a different quarterback of the future."

According to Washington Times reporter Dan Daly, only four clubs in the last four decades have doubled up on QBs like that, spent two No. 1s on them in such a short period of time.

First they burned a second-round pick on Patrick Ramsey; now they've sent three draft picks -- a third this year and first- and fourth-rounders next year -- to land Campbell. In between, they signed veteran Mark Brunell to a $43 million contract.

Can you say lack of direction?

Whatever the case, Campbell, the 25th player -- and third quarterback -- selected overall, is big (6-4, 223), strong, athletic and improving. But as Washington Post staffer Jason La Canfora noted, he was labeled a "project" by several NFL teams after failing to make an impact at Auburn until his senior season.

He suffered from playing for four offensive coordinators in four seasons and did not begin to look like a pro prospect until 2004. Campbell worked with coordinator Al Borges his senior season, when Auburn went undefeated.

Campbell's overall size and athletic ability are considerable attributes, but how he will develop is the source of debate.

"He's more than just a product of his [offensive] system, and he has natural talent," one NFL personnel executive told La Canfora before the draft. "But he has some real issues to overcome. If [Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs] knows what we know, he's not going to take him with that pick there. Everyone I've talked to thinks this kid is at best a second-round pick."

Another team official said that until his senior season, it did not appear that Campbell would even be drafted, and cautioned against expecting too much too soon from Campbell.

"He's going to be holding a clipboard for two years," the executive said. "I think it will take him that long to learn the system and be ready to execute it."

Fantasy Bottom Line: Two years. Hmmmm. ... That also happens to be when Ramsey's current contract with the Redskins expires. A coincidence? I think not.

4. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
As Killion suggested, "Rodgers will forever be the face of the 2005 draft, just not in the way he envisioned. Rather than the first guy to hear his name called, he became this draft's sadly compelling story. This year's Thurman Thomas.

"He waited and waited and waited, cameras zooming in on his face as he tried to look relaxed, amused, busy -- anything but like a guy who was quickly scrapping mental plans to buy a hot new SUV and a Maui crash pad. ..."

The truth is, Rodgers' free fall was a result of team needs -- no fault of his own. There were no rumors about Rodgers, no real skeletons in his closet. ESPN insider Chris Mortensen suggested on Sunday that some teams might have been turned off by his attitude during interviews. But Mortensen added that even the detractors were impressed with the way he handled his uniquely public fall.

After it was over, Rodgers talked about getting a lesson in humility -- not that he sounded very humble when asked if he was disappointed the 49ers didn't draft him.

"Not as disappointed as the 49ers will be that they didn't draft me," he deadpanned.

ESPN's Ron Jaworski said one of the reasons Rodgers dropped so much in the draft was because he did not demonstrate enough ability to throw from different angles. Jaworski said Rodgers needed to develop that skill to be successful in the NFL.

Much of the commentary about Rodgers before and on draft day focused on how high he held the football before release, a technique he was taught by coach Jeff Tedford at California. Pro play requires the quarterback to hold the ball lower.

"As I studied Aaron Rodgers, the one thing I talked about is that the ball is carried up (high)," Jaworski explained. "But when he got chased from the pocket, the ball came down and he did carry the ball well in here (low). That's when he threw the ball very well. He would get that gunslinger kind of throw, with the whip in the arm, snap of the wrist, and the ball would come out."

So, will Rodgers be a star in the league?

Not according to NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, who told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: "I think what Aaron Rodgers is, is he's a highly proficient, technical quarterback who can manage a game, has an above-average arm and can be a good player in the right system.

"I don't think he is an all-pro type quarterback though."

Fantasy Bottom Line: Falls to fourth on my list primarily because of the daunting task ahead: Replacing future Hall of Famer/living legend Brett Favre in a place like Green Bay won't be easy. Rodgers' future hinges almost completely on how he handles that pressure -- and how well he plays with the enormous chip he's worn on his shoulder since draft day.

5. Adrian McPherson, New Orleans Saints
According to New Orleans Times-Picayune staff writer Mike Triplett, the Saints selected the electrifying but unproven McPherson -- a high-risk, high-reward athlete they had been targeting for more than a year -- with the 152nd pick of the draft.

Off-field problems scared many teams away from the 6-foot-3, 218-pounder, who was kicked off the Florida State football team for several indiscretions in 2002, including cashing a stolen check, passing bad checks and allegedly being involved in a gambling ring.

But his on-field upside proved too irresistible.

"I'll say it. We kind of had a (star) next to this kid," said Rick Mueller, the Saints' director of player personnel who was admittedly McPherson's most ardent supporter. "There are some other quarterbacks that may develop into backups or may develop into guys that will make your team. But I think talent-wise, this kid has a chance to develop into a player in the league.

"From a skill standpoint, we thought this guy has the most upside of all those guys up there."

General manager Mickey Loomis admitted that "there are some red flags there" with McPherson. But he said "we are up there in the fifth round swinging for the home run."

And there's no denying that without the off-field baggage, McPherson, who improved his reputation with a dazzling, 56-touchdown, five-interception, Rookie of the Year campaign in the Arena Football League, would likely have been a much earlier pick.

And if you believe senior writer Don Banks, in going to New Orleans in the fifth round, McPherson might have gone to one of the few teams where his raw, but obvious potential could be tapped at least on a limited basis in 2005.

It all depends on which Aaron Brooks shows up from week to week, but Banks believes that if McPherson can handle the playbook and show head coach Jim Haslett the ability to handle the mental aspects of the job, it's not a stretch to say he could leapfrog backup Todd Bouman and challenge for starting reps at some point.

Fantasy Bottom Line: Definitely the "wild card" in this year's class. As Banks put it: "If McPherson flashes some of his eye-opening athleticism in the preseason, giving the Saints a taste of his talent for making plays, the quarterback decision could be more difficult than anyone imagines in the Big Easy."

That seems like a reasonable assessment to me. ...

Of course, nine other quarterbacks were drafted last weekend and a handful of undrafted free agents have been signed since.

Most appear destined to career backup status, but some -- Chicago fourth-rounder Kyle Orton, for example (doesn't every QB on the Bears' roster eventually get a start or two?) -- might have some long-term potential. Oakland third-rounder Andrew Walter looks suspiciously like a Kerry Collins clone; Baltimore sixth-rounder Derek Anderson is another big guy with a big arm; and Cardinals free-agent addition Timmy Chang finished his collegiate career at Hawaii as the NCAA's all-time passing and total offense leader.

But we're talking long-term projects -- with an emphasis on "projects" -- at best.

Those interested in delving more deeply will find complete information on the entire batch at's 2005 Draft site.

That's it for now. ... Check back Thursday for my overview of this year's top rookie running backs; Friday for wide receivers; and Saturday for tight ends and place-kickers.