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Thursday, May 5, 2011
Rams, 49ers linked by first-round picks

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

North Carolina's Robert Quinn was my projected pick for the San Francisco 49ers with the seventh choice in the 2011 NFL draft.

Todd McShay had the St. Louis Rams selecting Missouri's Aldon Smith at No. 14.

Quinn and Smith are indeed heading to the NFC West, but the draft fell counter to expectations. The 49ers took Smith at No. 7. The Rams chose Quinn seven spots later.

Why the surprise? Wasn't Quinn the more highly rated player?

"When San Francisco took Aldon Smith, it was a huge red flag that Quinn's medical report is worse than people think," Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. "Quinn is better than Smith. It tells me team doctors probably took him off the 49ers' board. You wonder if the Rams got damaged goods. If not, I'm all for it."

Team doctors evaluate risks differently. The benign brain tumor doctors discovered in Quinn four years ago could have conceivably made him too great a risk for one team at one position in the draft, but not too great for another team later in the draft. And it might not have factored significantly at all for some.

If Quinn is healthy, the Rams appear to have gotten very good value based on scouting reports.

"Chris Long all of a sudden becomes Justin Tuck in Steve Spagnuolo's defense," Williamson said. "They can move Long inside on early downs. They can play him everywhere. He'll take on that Justin Tuck strongside end/move-him-over-a-heavy-guard role. Quinn is a great player. I just wonder if there is something we don't know about him."

Not so, according to the Rams.

"Obviously, our doctors spent a lot of time researching and talking to experts and talking to people at Chapel Hill," general manager Billy Devaney said. "He's never had any problem when he was at North Carolina. They discovered this when he was in high school and he’s played with it and our doctors, as we called around the league, the majority of the teams were comfortable with his condition, also."

The 49ers have big plans for Smith. They think he can play multiple positions within their front seven. And at age 20, he is only getting started.

"To me, Aldon Smith isn't really a 3-4 outside linebacker," Williamson said. "He is going to be 285 pounds. He is so young. We will look at his [college] highlights three years from now and say, 'Wow, he does not look like that.' I see the attraction, too. He can still rush the passer. Just watching what they bring to field, I would rather have Quinn, clearly, but not if my doctor advises against it."