Four top NFL draft analysts predict the 49ers will wind up with LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson in the first round.
Bad news? NFL Network analysts Charlie Casserly and Brian Billick agreed on Thursday that Alex Smith simply isn't good enough to play quarterback in the NFL, let alone start for 49ers' head coach Jim Harbaugh in 2011. The insiders don't believe that the Niners' former first-overall pick can salvage his career, resigning the club to find a passer from a group of undistinguished free agents and cast-offs.
Good news? Four of the most respected NFL draft analysts currently expect the top cornerback in the draft to be available when the 49ers choose seventh overall in the first round. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay both anticipate LSU star Patrick Peterson to be around when the 49ers pick No. 7 in the first round.
Wait. The bad news ties back into the good news because one draft expert has the 49ers selecting Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert at No. 7. That would ease the pressure on the club to find a veteran starter for the long term since Gabbert would, most likely, be put on the fast track to either open as the starter or ease into the role at some point in 2011.
Kiper actually has the former Peterson, the LSU cornerback, listed No. 1 as the best available player in this year's NFL draft.
"There were a lot of comments questioning why I could see my No. 1 overall Big Board player dropping this far on draft day," Kiper wrote on ESPN.com before mentioning past top corners like Rod Woodson, Deion Sanders and Champ Bailey who ranked as the best player in the draft but who weren't actually taken with the No. 1 pick. "At this position (cornerback), it simply happens and San Francisco should be happy if it does."
Peterson is a 219-pounder who ran a 4.34 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. He's not only considered the top shutdown cornerback in the draft, but he's a gifted punt returner.
Rob Rang, of CBSSports.com and SI.com's Don Banks also have Peterson going to the 49ers at No. 7 overall.
The only universally-respected draft analyst who doesn't have the 49ers taking Peterson is NFL.com's Pat Kirwan. Kirwan thinks that the 49ers will be in position to draft Missouri quarterback Gabbert—and that they will select him in the first round.
A recent shakeup in how the teams with the top six picks will select results in four experts predicting that the No. 1 corner, Peterson, will fall to the Niners. Kirwan, however, disagrees with their belief that Gabbert will go first overall to the Carolina Panthers.
Kiper and Banks have the Panthers selecting Gabbert No. 1, while Rang expects Auburn Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton to go first overall. Kirwan and McShay see the Panthers taking Alabama defensive lineman Marcel Dureus.
The Panthers selected quarterback Jimmy Clausen in last year's draft and the former Notre Dame star struggled upon being forced into the starting lineup. Still, Clausen's presence in Carolina leads Kiper to write about how Gabbert will go to the Panthers, but never play for them.
"I expect any labor deal that gets worked out will create a rookie salary scale that limits the massive bonuses for top picks, making it easier to trade up and down in the draft," Kiper wrote. "So it makes sense for Carolina to project that it could take one of the top quarterbacks and open up the trade options, in essence, saying, 'To guarantee a shot at the one you prefer, talk to us.' "
(Ted Sillanpaa can be reached at email@example.com)