I am dying to weigh in on latest episode of As T. O. Turns -- I'm sure you can guess which side I'm on -- but in honor of draft week, I'm not going to use the top of my column to rip this incredibly selfish man. You'll have to scroll down to get that. Instead, I'll use this space to try to decipher the top of the draft.
It's hard. Really hard.
But let's give it a go with what I know -- or think I know -- about the first 12 picks of Saturday's draft. Call it the Dirty Dozen. Because there's no clean and clear intelligence as I sit here late Sunday night.
All I know is I feel strongly that Utah quarterback Alex Smith will be the first pick in the draft. By someone. I'm not positive it'll be the 49ers, though it probably will be. But mark my word: Alex Smith will be the first pick in this draft. If some team wants to pay the 49ers a ransom, it can probably have him, but I don't see that happening for the athletic kid from San Diego. Whatever transpires at No. 1, though, I think teams will feverishly try to trade down to gain extra picks, particularly in the first two rounds.
"The mantra this year is, 'Move back,'" Carolina coach John Fox told me the other day. The Panthers pick 14th, and it doesn't take a genius to figure out they'd like to be 24th or 34th, as long as they could pick up an extra first-day selection or two. "To us, the top of the round isn't a lot different than the rest of the round. We don't have the sure things we've had in past drafts."
I asked Fox what the signing-bonus difference is between the second and 14th pick. Ten million? If so, Fox had to be happy not to be picking that high.
"You have no idea," Fox said. "Don't think that hasn't been discussed around here a time or two since the end of the season."
You know what's interesting about this year's draft? The pre-draft information stinks, even from the guys who are usually quote fountains. Such as Steve Mariucci, the loquacious Detroit coach. "On or off the record?" he asked me on Friday when I phoned him trolling for draft tidbits. "We're keeping everything in-house." Well then. How 'bout those Tigers?
The reason is simple. No one wants to give away what they're doing because there's so much uncertainty above them. Spilling the true beans could hurt any trade possibilities. As one coach not named Mariucci told me on Friday: "Give me a good reason for telling the truth about what we'd like to do. One reason. I can't think of one."
So understand that the shutdown by draft mouthpieces in Miami (NickSaban's tighter than a drum), Chicago (GM Jerry Angelo never spills) and Cleveland (Romeo Crennel is following in BillBelichick's closed-door footsteps) means you're just going to have to tune in Saturday at noon to see what's going to happen. All we can do right now is guess. I only ask this: Do not hold me up to ridicule next Saturday after the first round.
Giving the top of the draft my best shot:
1. San Francisco:The pick: Utah quarterback Alex Smith. Though he fluttered some balls in his private Niners workout early this month on a windy day in Utah, Smith appears to be the heir to the 49ers' quarterback throne. The Niners love his 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. By late in the week, I kept hearing San Francisco leaning toward Smith. I believe the man who will make the pick, rookie 49ers coach MikeNolan, loves Smith's intangibles. He might think Aaron Rodgers is a better football player (and I don't know that, but it wouldn't surprise me), but he feels Smith is going to be a better man for his team long-term. If you're not in the meetings with Nolan and personnel czar Scot McCloughan, you can't know what they're thinking. But I just believe Noland and Smith would mesh better than Nolan and the ultra-confident Rodgers. Now for the interesting part of the first-pick derby. I've been convinced all along that no team would spend lavishly to move to the top of this draft for anyone. But during the last four or five days, Alex Smith-mania has broken out. The Bucs, maybe the Dolphins, maybe the Browns ... a list of teams are interested in him. Interested enough to pull the trigger to pay the 49ers what they'd want for Smith? We shall see. My rather ample gut tells me Smith's a Niner.