Every draft has wild cards, some because of ability, some because of off-field problems. As I've asked NFL people, I've heard off-field reservations about Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith, Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett and others. In terms of ability, TCU quarterback Andy Dalton is the most intriguing wild card out there.
To some in the NFL, the 6-foot-2 Dalton is not big enough to be a franchise quarterback. I've heard estimates of Dalton going anywhere from 25 (late in the first round) to 75 (early in the third).
"That's exactly what I've heard too,'' Dalton told me the other night.
After hearing lots of opinions about Dalton, as a player and where he might go, I now think it's most likely he won't get past 45. The Niners, with the 13th pick in the second round, seem a very possible landing spot, as does Jacksonville at No. 49. Dalton running Jim Harbaugh's offense? I not only can see it, but also think it would be a borderline brilliant move by the new San Francisco coach.
Dalton has a chance to be this draft's Drew Brees. In the 2001 draft, Brees was the 32nd pick, the first choice in the second round. That was the Michael Vick draft. Vick went first, and the next quarterback picked was Brees, at 32. Not saying Dalton, an inch and a half taller than Brees, will be anywhere near the quarterback Brees has become. But I am saying their cases are the same: very bright people, longtime starters in big programs, high achievement in college ... and they're shorter than NFL teams view as ideal.
In his last two seasons at TCU, Dalton was a 64-percent passer with 50 touchdowns and 14 picks. He ran a sophisticated offense with lots of decisions made on the run. One scout that has studied Dalton in the past couple of months thinks he's the most pro-ready quarterback from day one that a team could draft in this offseason of uncertainty. Mike Mayock says Dalton's Rose Bowl performance against Wisconsin was one of the best tapes he saw of a college quarterback in the 2010 season. "He put on a clinic," Mayock said.
Could he sneak into the end of the first round? I doubt it, but I do think he'll be gone fairly early in the second.
"I think the one thing I've been able to do with the teams that have studied me is I've shown I can make all the throws,'' Dalton said. "People wondered about my deep throws, but I think I proved I've got the arm for them. I think the ball gets out of my hand quick, and my decision-making at the line of scrimmage is good. Every team I've worked out for has told me I've got the arm to make all the throws they need.''
But he doesn't have a cannon, and some teams don't want to use a high pick on a quarterback without a great arm. That's a fact. For the West Coast Offense Harbaugh will install with the 49ers, though, "My skills would translate,'' Dalton said. "I've made a lot of throws on the run. I've got a quick release on the run. I can make decisions in that offense that you'd need to make.''
We'll see who ends up liking Dalton the most. I think he might break the mold of a lot of recent second-round picks, the flops, and turn out to be a Kevin Kolb type, entering the league lightly regarded and then turning into a starter with an uncertain future. In other words, a very good gamble for a team with a quarterback need and a pick early in the second round.
Now onto your e-mail:
• NOTHING. "About the 5-yard rule for kicking teams ... What prevents a team from lining up players five yards behind the ball and having them run laterally to build up speed before turning upfield on coverage? Such a ploy doesn't increase player safety much and the movement might disrupt blocking schemes enough to allow for bigger hits downfield.''--Dave Coffland, Pocatello, Idaho
Teams can coach players to do whatever they want, obviously, within the rules. I'm not sure if moving laterally will get them downfield any faster, but you're right in trying to think of alternative ways for kickoff-coverage guys to get an edge, because that's what smart special-teams coaches are thinking of right now.
• I THINK THE ISSUE IS DYING, ROBERT. "Peter, most people seem to agree that whenever we have a new collective bargaining agreement in the NFL, it will include a rookie wage scale (and Hallelujah for that). However, if I was going to be a first-round draft pick next month and the NFL Players Association asked me to skip my one chance at this ceremony to show support for them while they negotiate my rookie contract away and into their own pockets, I know what my answer would be: stick it where the sun don't shine! The Players Association should find other ways to fight this battle than to destroy a once-in-a-lifetime moment for the premier rookies. It's unconscionable and petty beyond words.''--Robert, New York
In an interview to be aired tonight on the NFL Network's Total Access show, NFLPA executive board member Jeff Saturday said he didn't think "one isolated incident'' like a player shaking hands with Roger Goodell the night of the draft will affect his camaraderie in the locker room going forward. "I don't think there's a lot of veterans who would hold that against the kid,'' Saturday said. So now I think it's getting to be a moot point.
• CORY'S VIEW ON COMPENSATORY PICKS. "Hi Peter. In regards to compensatory picks -- I agree that the system is broken, but I disagree that picks should be higher. I think if teams were granted higher compensatory picks for guys lost in free agency, the teams would lose some motivation in re-signing vets versus drafting a younger replacement (especially when a rookie wage scale is in place). Free agency is fine, but as a fan, I like to see my good players stay put.''--Cory, Mogadore, Ohio
Good point -- but in the case of many players, like Julius Peppers, they were going to leave anyway. I do understand your point, though: You don't want to give teams a motivation to let players walk. The way I look at it is that I see teams making some interesting decision about good free agents. Should we keep, say, Vincent Jackson, or get the 34th pick in the draft and let Jackson walk? I think it would make the free-agent market even more lucrative than it now is.
• BELIZE! AN EMAIL FROM BELIZE! "It should not surprise you that QBs will only have the third most players in the NFL's Top 100. First, depending on how they classify positions, there are up to 4-5 times as many starting offensive linemen and defensive linemen, 2-3 times as many receivers and linebackers, twice as many corners and twice as many safeties. Quarterbacks are still being overvalued at 3rd when, by the numbers, it should be one of the lowest positions.''--Al Caniglia, Belmopan, Belize
I raised this point with Bob Papa on our Sirius radio show this morning. Who is the 13th-best quarterback in football right now? Let's say it's Josh Freeman. And who is the 13th-best tackle in football? Michael Oher? If you were picking one of those guys to be in the top 100, who would you pick? I'd pick Freeman. Even though there are 64 starting tackles and 32 starting quarterbacks, my point is I'd value quarterbacks higher than tackles.
• NO. "Real quick question: The complete NFL schedule usually gets released in April. Will the lockout affect that?''--Eric Peterson, Pittsburgh
The NFL says the schedule will be released in mid-April, as usual.