One day after Utah's Alex Smith appeared to bring calm to the NFL draft's quarterback argument, Cal's Aaron Rodgers threw the debate into chaos again.
Rodgers followed Smith's superb pro day workout Wednesday with one of his own on Thursday in Berkeley, Calif., impressing another packed house of scouts, coaches and executives from every team in the league. The crowd was estimated to be slightly smaller than the 60-plus who watched Smith on Wednesday. And while Rodgers didn't elicit the standing ovation Smith received, an NFC executive in attendance said both appear neck and neck in evaluations.
"They are really close, but it's relative," the executive said. "You can't say this or that makes one the top pick and the other second – or wherever they go. … I'm not getting into rankings. [You could] call 10 people and five would go one way and five would go the other. That says enough about where they are."
Though the workouts were slightly different, Rodgers apparently showed a nice release and plenty of zip on his passes, and demonstrated his accuracy by completing passes on the run. He didn't have to prove as much dropping into the pocket like Smith, but Rodgers was said to have demonstrated good footwork.
It's no longer a debate whether a quarterback is worthy of the No. 1 pick. While there have been some whispers about Braylon Edwards as the draft's top choice, that notion was likely laid to rest this week. Not because Edwards isn't the most talented player available, but because Smith and Rodgers have finally gotten some of the evaluations that customarily go along with the top prospect in the draft.
Now the difficult part – separating the two.
Like Smith's workout, San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Nolan and Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban were on hand, and both were expected to meet with Rodgers in coming days. While Saban and the Dolphins are believed to be leaning toward Auburn running back Ronnie Brown with the No. 2 pick, it's worth noting that Saban viewed both Smith and Rodgers personally.
Whether or not the Dolphins select a quarterback with their pick, the onus is now on the 49ers. Not so much to pick the right player – but to make sure they don't take the wrong one (e.g., the Cleveland Browns passing over Donovan McNabb for Tim Couch in 1999). And since the talent evaluations of Rodgers and Smith have ultimately settled on the same level, it will be interviews, smarts and the offensive system that dictates which player is taken with the first pick in the draft.
Other pro day news …
A few "flex" defensive ends (guys who could rotate between linebacker and defensive end) worked out nicely earlier this week: Maryland's Shawn Merriman and Notre Dame's Justin Tuck.
Merriman solidified his status in the middle of the first round by running his 40-yard dash in the mid 4.6-second range, displaying good agility in the short shuttle and registering a 40-inch vertical. Measuring 6-foot-4 and 274 pounds, Merriman will likely be the first defensive end selected.
Tuck ran his 40 in the high 4.6-second range, after measuring in at 6-5 and 265. He most likely locked in his status as a late first-round pick.
Florida State offensive tackle Alex Barron ran his 40-yard dashes in the high 4.8-second range and benched 225 pounds 21 times. While some observers were shaky on his number of bench reps, others wrote it off because Barron has the longest arms in the draft.
Barron had a chance to move into the top 10 picks with a good workout, but reviews seem to be mixed. He's still a lock to go in the middle of the first round, at the latest.