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.
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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. "
In an interview to be aired tonight on the NFL Network's
• CORY'S VIEW ON COMPENSATORY PICKS.
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.
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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.
The NFL says the schedule will be released in mid-April, as usual.