What if the 49ers drafted Aaron Rodgers over Alex Smith in the 2005 NFL Draft?

It has been nearly 17 years since the San Francisco 49ers chose Alex Smith at No. 1 overall and left Aaron Rodgers sitting in the green room during the 2005 NFL Draft. Since then, the two teams have had different fortunes. Let’s examine what has transpired since then and how things might have been different had the 49ers selected Rodgers over Smith at the top of the 2005 NFL Draft.

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers have had more success than the 49ers since 2005

Since Rodgers was drafted in 2005, the Packers have been to the postseason 11 times in 17 seasons. For the first three of those seasons and one of the playoff appearances, Brett Favre remained the starter in Green Bay. Therefore, Rodgers has led the Packers to the playoffs 10 times in 14 seasons as the starter. Meanwhile, the 49ers have been to the playoffs just four times in the same time span.

Additionally, the Packers have won one Super Bowl compared to zero for the 49ers. The 49ers have been to the Super Bowl twice, compared to once for the Packers. However, Smith was not the starter for either of those Super Bowls. The thing that has been asked many times — would the 49ers have been better off drafting Rodgers in 2005 than Smith?

The 49ers were not a good team in 2005

The two careers are hard to compare and contrast. Smith and Rodgers were selected to two franchises in drastically different situations. The Packers were coming off four straight postseason appearances, while the 49ers had gone a woeful 2-14 in 2004. That 2005 season started a rebuild under new head coach Mike Nolan, and Smith was thrown straight into the fire.

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During those first few years, Smith had a rotating cast of offensive coordinators and three different head coaches before Jim Harbaugh took over in 2011. In contrast, Rodgers got to sit and learn behind Favre before stepping into a team in 2008 that had gone 13-3 and reached the NFC Conference Championship the year before. Even then, Rodgers’ Packers team struggled, going 6-10 in his first season as the starter.

Could Rodgers have actually made the 49ers a worse overall team long-term?

There is no guarantee that drafting Rodgers in 2005 would have changed the future of the San Francisco franchise. Even if Rodgers had been an upgrade on Smith, it would have likely just turned the 49ers into a middling team in those years. In some ways, that is the worst place an NFL team can be — not good enough to challenge but too good to have a chance at potential franchise-changing players in the draft.

This is not to say if we did a 2005 redraft, you would not immediately put Rodgers in as the first selection by the 49ers. Looking at how their careers have played out, that would be an easy decision. The problem is what that would have meant for the 49ers in terms of the supporting cast for Rodgers. Their struggles in those early years with Smith put the 49ers in a position to draft OT Joe Staley, TE Vernon Davis, and LB Patrick Willis.

Rodgers has not made the 49ers disappointed in their head-to-head meetings

An intriguing element of the Rodgers and 49ers saga was Rodgers’ quote after the draft. When asked if he was disappointed, Rodgers responded: “Not as disappointed as the 49ers will be that they didn’t draft me.”

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Rodgers will point to his Super Bowl ring and his three (likely to become four) MVP awards as him being right. However, Rodgers has not had his way in head-to-head competition between the two.

In total, Rodgers has faced off with the 49ers 12 times as Green Bay’s starting QB. Things started well in 2009 and 2010 with two victories. Yet, overall, the Packers are 6-6 when facing the 49ers with Rodgers as the starter.

Furthermore, the Packers are 0-3 in the postseason with Rodgers as the starter. Only one of those losses has seen the Packers even come close (23-20 in the 2013-14 season). The other two losses have seen the 49ers win by two or more scores.

The 49ers have had a lot of turnover since 2005

For all the discussion about what the 49ers would have been with Rodgers compared to Smith, one thing is for certain. If you switch the two QBs in the 2022 Divisional Round matchup, the 49ers would be significant favorites right now. The 49ers have Jimmy Garoppolo as their QB, who has divided opinion since San Francisco acquired him. In fact, the 49ers’ history since 2005 has been turbulent, both in terms of their QB and their head coach.

Looking back to 2005, the 49ers have had six head coach changes and six different people lead the team. Nolan lasted until 2008, then Mike Singletary took over. Singletary managed just 40 games before Jim Tomsula took temporary charge. Subsequently, they had a successful run under Jim Harbaugh before Tomsula had another go for a single season. Chip Kelly then had a season before the 49ers turned to Kyle Shanahan.

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In terms of starting QBs, the 49ers have tried plenty of options. During the last 17 years, seven different players have led the 49ers in passing yards in a given season. Among those names are Smith, Colin Kaepernick, and Jimmy Garoppolo.

Additionally, there were times when the team had to turn to Trent Dilfer, Shaun Hill, Blaine Gabbert, and Nick Mullens. Compared to that list, the prospect of having Rodgers under center for the last 17 years seems an attractive proposition indeed.

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