2011 NFC Championship: San Francisco 49ers and the One That Got Away

Vincent MoraContributor IJanuary 20, 2011

BERKELEY, CA - NOVEMBER 20:  Aaron Rodgers #8 of the California Golden Bears celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass to Burl Toeler against the Stanford Cardinals at Memorial Stadium on November 20, 2004 in Berkeley, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

With Aaron Rodgers about to play in the NFC Championship, perhaps the most important game of his life so far, one can't help but wonder what could have been had the San Francisco 49ers selected homegrown Rodgers and not Alex Smith in the 2005 NFL draft.

It pains the Bay Area to watch a local boy lead the "wrong team" into the playoffs and on to the cusp of the Super Bowl.

Just why did Scot McCloughan do this to us? Why did he have to choose the wrong guy?

It is very easy to look at things now almost six years later and make this determination. The Packers got themselves a franchise quarterback, and the team that passed up on him is headed into 2011 with no real quarterback option.

But what has been the difference between Rodgers and Smith? Was there a way 49ers management could have avoided all this? 

Begin by looking at their college careers.

Smith's college career is very simple to analyze. He was 24-1 as a starter at Utah. Bottom line, he was a winner.

Smith's stats are also very impressive.  He threw 47 touchdowns and only eight interceptions in his career at Utah, including the 2004 season where he threw 32 touchdowns to only four interceptions.

When analyzing a college quarterback, accuracy is a huge factor, and Smith had a 66.3 percent career completion percentage at Utah. Yes, this was under Urban Meyer's spread offense, but numbers do not lie.

Rodgers, who hails from nearby Chico, Calif., was without a doubt the 49ers fan favorite prior to the 2005 draft,  but let's take a look at some of the factors that made him drop all the way to the 24th spot.

There was a reason Rodgers and Smith were neck-and-neck in the battle of the 2005 overall pick and their numbers reflect that. Rodgers had 42 touchdowns to only 13 interceptions while playing for the Golden Bears.

His completion percentage was also very impressive at 63.8 percent, so just what made the difference?

They both had excellent mobility while in college, and both had strong arms. Even ESPN thought it was crazy Rodgers was still waiting to be chosen when the 24th pick arrived. Draft day was not the best day for him, but he sure is sticking it to everyone now.

The 49ers decided to start Smith as a rookie, where he threw one touchdown to 11 interceptions, which suffice it to say, is horrible.

The Packers, on the other hand, allowed Rodgers to learn from future Hall-of-Famer Brett Favre for three years before declaring him their starter.

The 49ers have hired six different offensive coordinators for Smith, while Rodgers has been playing for Mike McCarthy since his starting days in 2008 and has had McCarthy there since 2006.

On a side note, McCarthy was also the offensive coordinator for the 49ers in 2005, the year Smith was selected over Rodgers.

So who do the 49ers have to blame? Is it Smith, who simply does not have the talent level to make it as an NFL quarterback? Or is Rodgers just that superior to him in talent level?

If the 49ers had selected Rodgers, would the 49ers be in the playoffs right now? Maybe the 49ers organization is just toxic and incapable of properly grooming a quarterback.

How much blame can we really place on McCloughan? I mean, we saw the same stats he was looking at when making the decision. Obviously, both quarterbacks looked good on tape, and I am positive that both of them passed the scout's eye test as well.

We will never know exactly what could have been though, and it pains me to see the one that got away.