Kiper-Effect Enables Cardinals to Steal Our Thunder

May 3, 2005 at 12:00 AM

After watching the cameras interview either Eli Manning or a Manning family member every five picks a year ago, I thought for sure that the 49ers would receive some media adoration this year. But there were no Alex Smith childhood photos. There were no Andrea Kramer interviews with parents or relatives telling us that they always knew Alex would be a superstar NFL quarterback. In fact, aside from Sal Paolantonio standing in a locker room decorated with 49ers equipment, the 49ers got scant attention. There must be a reason for this!

Much like a Congressional inquiry, the purpose of the article is to answer the question, "What went wrong?" Did ESPN think that Aaron Rodgers dropping to twenty-fourth was more important? Did they think that we were outdone by the Dolphins, Browns, or Buccaneers, all of whom coveted Smith?

Actually, the primary problem is that the NFL people believe that the Cardinals' perpetual rebuilding project might actually get them somewhere. The Cardinals have out-ranked the 49ers in virtually every draft analysis I've seen. There must, I insist, be a reason for this. East Coast bias? No. An attempt to appeal to the major media markets? No. Something far more sinister. An unhealthy obsession with Mel Kiper.

What? I know what you're thinking, but don't worry, I'll explain everything later. Let me just start out by stating for the record that I hold nothing against the Cardinals organization or their fans. In fact, I like their fans because they keep their long-standing suffering to themselves, unlike Cubs and Red Sox fans who feel the need to trumpet their pain to the world on an hourly basis. My problem lies squarely with the draft experts who believe that the Cardinals who, despite drafting seven picks behind us and choosing from our leftover table scraps, apparently made lemonade out of our passed over lemons.

But let's briefly consider how, or why, the media evaluates the draft. With every selection, coaches and GMs select the player that they believe will help their football team the most. Any scout, even the most incompetent, could easily justify to the sharpest of media moguls why his team selected the player it did, and do so with sufficient depth and industry-specific knowledge to make the sportscaster look silly.

The point being, when Kiper lists his "Best Available Players" at the bottom of the screen, he has no idea what he's talking about, as evidenced by the fact that teams don't usually pick the "Best Available Players" right away. Nevertheless, Kiper, via his website, radio cameos, and Elvis-like walks through New York City, drums up considerable interest in the players he ranks at the top of his draft board. Thus, when the Cardinals drafted Darryl Blackstock in the third round, it looked like a steal because Kiper had him going in the early second round.

The Cardinals benefited from this Kiper-effect on three separate occasions with the selections of Blackstock, Eric Green, and Elton Brown. Who cares if Blackstock is too small to play defensive end in the Cardinals' 4-3? Who cares if Eric Green was the fifteenth cornerback taken and, thus, probably not a steal? Who cares if Elton Brown, the Maurice Clarett of offensive linemen, is going to combine with L.J. Shelton to form the most cancerous locker room in the history of football? They were ranked highly on Kiper's website!

But did the Cardinals really draft better than the 49ers? Should the 49ers have drafted Antrel Rolle, then J.J. Arrington, etc.? Probably not. We've all known for a long time that it all starts with the lines. Lines are the building blocks. It doesn't matter how good everything else is if you don't have the solid base. We are fortunate to have a coach who is willing to bypass the flashier picks in order to draft the meat and potatoes that enables everything else to develop. I don't know a single person who jumps off the sofa when his team drafts a guard. But thanks to Nolan, the team now has five highly regarded offensive linemen, and two backups who could step in as starters while barely missing a beat. Injuries will still occur, but they will no longer be an excuse for pandemonium in the backfield.

The two most important things the 49ers needed to accomplish in this draft were finding a quarterback of the future and protecting that quarterback. When quarterbacks face constant pressure in their developmental years, they hear the footsteps for the rest of their careers. Nolan is doing everything he can to make sure that when Alex Smith takes his first snaps he will have solid protection and a power running game to take the heat off. Doing so gives Smith the best chance of developing into a Pro Bowl quarterback and gives him the best chance of playing at a high level for the next fifteen years. That's more important than filling a free safety void this year. That's more important than investing in a wide receiver that is a tick of a tenth of a second faster than Arnaz Battle.

Nothing against Kiper, nothing against the Cards, but all things considered, I'm Rollin' with Nolan on this one.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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