Missouri's Smith, Gabbert in Top-10 picks of NFL Draft

Thursday, April 28, 2011 | 9:08 p.m. CDT; updated 7:52 p.m. CDT, Saturday, April 30, 2011
Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith holds up a jersey after he was selected as the seventh overall pick by the San Francisco 49ers in the first round of the NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on Thursday in New York.

It was the seventh pick, hardly unexpected.

The San Francisco 49ers had expressed interest in drafting a player from Missouri. But the man who stood up and put on the red 49ers cap was not quarterback Blaine Gabbert. It was defensive end Aldon Smith, who shocked many when he was picked before his former teammate at Thursday's NFL Draft.

2011 NFL Draft First Round

1. Carolina, Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
2. Denver, Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M
3. Buffalo, Marcell Dareus, DE, Alabama4. Cincinnati, A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
5. Arizona, Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
6. Atlanta (from Cleveland), Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
7. San Francisco, Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
8. Tennessee, Jake Locker, QB, Washington
9. Dallas, Tyron Smith, T, Southern Cal

10. Jacksonville (from Washington), Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
11. Houston, J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
12. Minnesota, Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State
13. Detroit, Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
14. St. Louis, Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
15. Miami, Mike Pouncey, C, Florida
16. Washington (from Jacksonville), Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
17. New England (from Oakland), Nate Solder, T, Colorado
18. San Diego, Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois
19. N.Y. Giants, Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
20. Tampa Bay, Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa

21. Cleveland (from Kansas City), Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor
22. Indianapolis, Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
23. Philadelphia, Danny Watkins, OG, Baylor
24. New Orleans, Cameron Jordan, DE, California
25. Seattle, James Carpenter, OT, Alabama
26. Kansas City (from Atlanta through Cleveland) Jon Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
27. Baltimore, Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
28. New Orleans, Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
29. Chicago, Gabe Carimi, OL, Wisconsin
30. New York Jets, Muhammad Wilkerson, DT, Temple
31. Pittsburgh, Cameron Heyward, DL, Ohio State
32. Green Bay, Derrick Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State

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"The Blaine Gabbert slide is on," ESPN analyst Adam Schefter said after the 49ers' selection.

The slide didn't last long, but it pushed Gabbert to the third quarterback taken in this year's draft. Auburn's Cam Newton went first overall to the Carolina Panthers, and Washington's Jake Locker was the eighth pick and went to the Tennessee Titans. In the end, the Washington Redskins traded their No. 10 pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars, and a teal hat and jersey became Gabbert's future. The Smith and Gabbert selections marked the first time Missouri has had two players selected in the top 10 of the NFL draft.

The new colors were a far cry from the black and gold that the two players are accustomed to. Gone were the jerseys of game days and the baggy pants and letter jackets of campus life. The two men who took the stage in New York were polished, Gabbert in a gray suit and Smith in tan. They both looked the part, but each has a long road ahead.

Smith, who left Missouri with two years of eligibility, missed three games with a broken leg in 2010. He finished the year with 48 tackles and six sacks, down from 60 tackles and 11 sacks in 2009, when he was healthy throughout the season. That toughness told the 49ers a lot about his game and spirit.

"I think I let people know I had a heart, that I love the game and I'm not a wimp," Smith said. "I'm a tough guy."

49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said it was clear on tape that Smith was limping at times on his tender leg.

"That struck a chord. Bones usually take 4 to 6 weeks to heal," Harbaugh said. "He's not afraid to go into a pile of bodies."

In Smith, San Francisco gets a player with the potential for improvement. Smith is slated to be a strong-side outside linebacker on a unit led by All-Pro Patrick Willis. Another former Mizzou star, defensive end Justin Smith, also helps anchor a San Francisco 3-4 defensive scheme that underachieved last season.

Harbaugh called Aldon Smith's wingspan "Dwyane Wade-like, almost eight feet." He will be given the opportunity to compete for a starting job right away on a team that hasn't had a winning season or reached the playoffs since 2002.

After a longer wait than he had probably hoped for, Gabbert's cell phone rang with a 904 area code: Jacksonville.

In his two seasons as Missouri's starting quarterback, Gabbert passed for 6,779 yards and completed 61.2 percent of his passes. After declaring for the draft in January, he trained at Athletes Performance in Phoenix with quarterbacks coach Terry Shea, who also worked with quarterbacks such as Sam Bradford and Josh Freeman. His draft stock quickly rose, and for a time there was speculation that he would be the first quarterback selected in the draft.

Gabbert said the feeling of being drafted was special.

"It's a dream come true to have the opportunity to play in the National Football League," Gabbert said on ESPN's live broadcast.

Although that dream probably didn't include waiting until the 10th pick, Gabbert let no sign of disappointment creep into his interview. He will join a team that already has a veteran quarterback in David Garrard, a 10-year veteran who threw for 2,734 yards and had an 8-6 record as a starter in 2010.

"We feel like we have a very capable player in David," Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio said. "Certainly, there's going to be competition. We have an opportunity to have a young man with a good skill set come in here and work and earn his way. I don't think you can be strong enough at that position. It's such a premium position in what is really a quarterback-driven league."

Jacksonville gave up Friday's second-round pick to swap first-rounders with the Washington Redskins. Jaguars general manager Gene Smith watched Gabbert get passed over by several teams with quarterback needs, and when Tennessee passed on him at No. 8, Smith started working the phones.

He tried to make a deal with Dallas at No. 9, but that fell through. The Redskins turned out to be a more willing trade partner. Washington later selected Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan at No. 16.

The situation means it's unlikely Gabbert will start, at least to begin the 2011 season.

"We're very happy to acquire a player we had strong feelings about as someone that can be the quarterback that can lead us in the future," Smith said. "Certainly David is our quarterback. ... David's a proven starter. Blaine's coming out of a shotgun, spread offense in college. He is an underclassman. But this guy has the physical skills, certainly the mental skills, to develop.

"We feel like we have an excellent situation here to bring along a young player."

Gabbert welcomed the competition and acknowledged that he needs time to learn Jacksonville's offense and make the transition to prostyle formations.

"I'm ecstatic," said Gabbert, who threw for 3,186 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. "David Garrard is a great quarterback. It's one of those situations where I'm going to come in, learn as much as possible and compete in training camp. That's all you can do."

In a news release, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said that both of his former players were drafted by quality franchises.

“I’m really happy and excited for Blaine and Aldon,” Pinkel said. “They have both had dreams for a long time to play in the NFL, and they’re great examples of how those goals can be reached through our program at Mizzou."

It was a night of suits and hugs, of boos and cheers. But the show is over, and Gabbert and Smith will now revert to something closer to the men that Missouri fans remember: football players. They'll report to Jacksonville and San Francisco and will soon begin training with their new teams.

Ater months of analysis, of speculation, of mock drafts, they now can play football.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report

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