In a year when NFL scouts have had a difficult time reaching a consensus on the top 10 prospects for the draft, let alone identifying the player who figures to be selected with the first overall choice, one outstanding workout can make a significant difference.
And so, given what scouts considered a superb on-campus audition Wednesday in front of 100 pairs of prying eyes, Utah quarterback Alex Smith stated his case for why the San Francisco 49ers should seriously consider him on April 23 for the top spot in the lottery.
How good was Smith during an hour-long workout in which he threw 80 passes, had only three hit the ground, and tossed just one "uncatchable" ball? So good that, at the conclusion of the session, scouts afforded the Utes star a rare standing ovation.
"He did a very good job delivering the ball," said 49ers first-year coach Mike Nolan, who was accompanied to the workout by personnel director Scot McCloughan, coordinator Mike McCarthy and quarterbacks coach Jim Hostler. "There were some little things, but nothing that isn't correctable."
University of California star Aaron Rodgers, the other quarterback prospect with a shot at grabbing the No. 1 overall slot, will work out on Thursday for league scouts. The 49ers are considering a group of about a half-dozen players for the top overall selection.
But if Smith was as brilliant Wednesday as scouts in attendance claimed he was, all of the other contenders for the No. 1 pick will need very strong workouts.
In only about three weeks, Smith, who bypassed his final season of college eligibility to enter the draft, has successfully addressed many of the questions about him. He measured 6-feet-4 1/8 and 217 pounds at the Indianapolis combine last month and seemed about 10 pounds heavier than at the conclusion of the college season, a key for scouts who were concerned he might be too thin. And Smith ran an eye-opening time of 4.71 in the 40, and also did well in field drills, demonstrating better athleticism than some felt he possessed.
The Wednesday workout only enhanced an already strong portfolio. One scout from an NFC team suggested to ESPN.com it was the best quarterback workout he had seen in at least 10 years. Another compared it to Troy Aikman's now-legendary audition in 1989.
"I felt pretty good," said Smith, who prepared for the session by working with Larry Kennan, the former longtime NFL offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. "There isn't a lot I think I could have done much better."
Smith threw from three-, five- and seven-step drops. He executed play-action fakes, half-rolls and full rollouts. And he displayed good arm strength on the deep "out" patterns and nice touch on the long ball. Another key: Smith showed that he could work from under center, in a standard NFL set, instead of from the shotgun formation. In the Utah offense, most of the plays are run from the shotgun.
League scouts tend to be a bit wary of quarterbacks who played in "gimmick" offenses in college, and so working from something other than a spread look was essential for Smith as the evaluation process now moves into the home stretch. Nolan allowed that, given Rodgers' familiarity with the kind of offense San Francisco will employ in 2005, he still might have a slight edge in the quarterback derby. But he was clearly impressed by Smith on and off the field.
Nolan mentioned Smith's "consistency of personality" during a pre-workout interview as one of the most impressive elements of the day. Smith, 20, finished his economics degree in just two years and carries a 3.74 grade-point average.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.