Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Teams can't afford to whiff on first-round draft choices. We covered this ground extensively before the draft. Evaluations from Scouts Inc. showed perennial playoff contenders Pittsburgh, New England, Indianapolis and San Diego as the only teams whose first-round choices exceeded expectations at least half the time since 2000. Miami, Denver, Oakland and Jacksonville saw first-round choices fall below expectations most of the time.
How early a team picks will influence those expectations, of course. That's why the Cardinals and 49ers wanted their recent first-round quarterbacks, Matt Leinart and Alex Smith, to prove themselves worthy as starters. But as Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said during a conference call Wednesday, an organization can't always play a high pick just for the sake of it.
Whisenhunt: "This team, this organization hasn't won enough games where we can patiently wait on any position. We want to win games now and that is what everything is geared towards."
Niners coach Mike Nolan had no choice but to take that approach in San Francisco. His three-year record (16-32) put him in a win-now-or-else situation. Whisenhunt would seem to have more leeway coming off an 8-8 first season in Arizona. Unlike Nolan, he also has Kurt Warner on his roster, making the decision to bench Leinart more readily defensible.
Whisenhunt: "I think that it's my job to put the players in there who give us the best chance to win. I think it's our obligation to our ownership, to our fans and even to our team to do that. You are obviously cognizant of your quarterback situation from the standpoint of having a young one that you're going to develop."
"Cognizant of" doesn't mean "beholden to" when the backup is a former league MVP. Leinart will get his chance at some point, but he wasn't entitled to anything in his third NFL season.