http://profootballtalk.com/rumormill.htm POSTED 9:16 a.m. EST, December 10, 2005 SMITH A BUST? There's talk in league circles that No. 1 overall draft pick Alex Smith, quarterback of the Niners, might not become all that he was expected to be. The arm strength isn't there, we're told, and he's simply not playing the way that folks expected a year ago, as he made his rise to the top of the draft class. We can't say we're surprised. Not because of Smith, but because the prospect of drafting a quarterback in round one historically is the flip-of-a-coin proposition. For the much-hyped Class of 1999, which featured Tim Couch and Akili Smith and Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper and Cade McNown, only two of the five became solid starters -- and the jury recently has gone back into deliberations regarding Culpepper (and, to a lesser extent, McNabb). Even the legendary Class of 1983, which churned up three Hall of Famers in John Elway, Jim Kelly, and Dan Marino, had an equal number of guys who, well, aren't: Tony Eason, Todd Blackledge, Ken O'Brien. The fact that Smith might not become the next Elway, Kelly and/or Marino is hardly a surprise, given that none of the teams taking guys in the top end of the 2005 draft were all that enamored with the items on the buffet line. And this reminds us of our general concern that the team that "earns" the No. 1 overall pick with the worst regular-season record could be getting worse, not better, by dumping so much cap money into the pockets of an unproven guy who might or might not make a significant contribution in his rookie year, or ever. We continue to believe that the team with the worst record should have the right to pick its spot in round one, whether it be No. 1 or No. 32 or anything in between. In some years (like 2006), the worst team would want the top pick. In others (like 2005), the worst team might aim lower. MORE ON IMG AND BC Although we learned on Friday afternoon that, contrary to the belief of some, Boston College coach Tom O'Brien is not represented by Tom Condon of IMG, a league source tells us that, in his assessment, IMG still receives "overwhelming advantages and access to the players through O'Brien." The source says that O'Brien tells other agents to "stay away" while Condon apparently gets a free run, including access to practice, introductions to players, and recommendations to the guys at the top of the pile. We're not saying that anyone has done anything wrong. But our sense is that the folks who have noticed these things are watching very closely for any signs of impropriety, which could include payments to O'Brien by IMG. Indeed, the fact that O'Brien isn't formally represented by IMG might have been an intentional effort to preserve appearances. It's possible that Condon is still helping O'Brien behind the scenes, as part of whatever arrangement they have. With all that said, we're not saying that they have any "arrangement" at all, or that money or consideration is changing hands. We're only saying that, based on the information provided to us, some folks believe that Condon gets preferential treatment. It could be sour grapes, or it could be right on the money. PETE PULLING A BILL CLINTON? USC coach Pete Carroll said Friday on ESPN Radio 710 in L.A. that he plans to stay at USC in 2006. "I'm going to have the chance to recruit eight or nine first-round draft picks. In the NFL you can get one a year. So we're really excited about the place we are, I'm happy to be here." The interviewer took it one step farther, as demonstrated by the following colloquy (hey, we borrowed Steve Young's thesaurus): ESPN Radio: "Does that mean you're going to pass on the chance to interview for any jobs outside of SC this year?" Pete Carroll: "I won't interview for any jobs." ESPN Radio: "Wow." Pete Carroll: "I won't interview for any of them." But pay particular attention to his choice of words. He won't "interview" for any of the jobs. But a guy like Carroll doesn't need to interview. He has "interviewed" via his run of unprecedented success at USC. He's now one of the few guys who can sit back and wait for the NFL teams to pursue him. And keep this in mind -- college coaches can't afford to say or do anything prior to the national letter-of-intent day to give other teams ammo to claim that the coach won't be there. As a result, many college coaches who make the climb wait until after the recruits are committed (this year it's Feb. 1). When it happens, it's often without warning (see Dennis Erickson in 2003). So it's possible that Pete is merely mincing words, a la our former Commander-in-Chief, in the hopes of getting those eight or nine first-rounders in the door, before Carroll walks out of it. DID LEN GET HIS KNUCKLES RAPPED? It looks like Len P. could be in deep sh-t over his most recent Tip Sheet. On Friday, one of our regular sources expressed outrage to us regarding the shameless pimping of Bills G.M. Tom Donahoe by Pasquarelli, who had this to say regarding Donahoe's prospects for 2006: "Keep the St. Louis Rams in mind as a possible landing spot for Tom Donahoe if the Buffalo Bills, as rumors indicate, fire the team president and general manager. In a meeting last Saturday with owner Ralph Wilson, it appeared Donahoe, a close friend of ESPN and ESPN.com, exited in pretty good shape. But that was before the Bills squandered a 21-0 lead in Miami." We'd run a link to the story, but we can't. As of Saturday morning, the Donahoe blurb from the Sheep Tit has been expunged. One potential reason for the striking of the "delete" button could have been Len's decision to throw all credibility out the window by acknowledging Donahoe as "a close friend of ESPN and ESPN.com." In Len's mind, the move might have been an effort to head off cynicism regarding his statements on Donahoe since most media types long have suspected that Donahoe feeds info to ESPN and ESPN.com in exchange for favorable treatment. But from a journalistic standpoint, the concession is akin to a street walker proclaiming, "I'm a whore and because I admit it, it's okay." It's possible, then, that someone within the corporate structure realized that Len shouldn't publicly be disclosing "close friendships" with anyone in the industry that ESPN and ESPN.com covers. Sure, it's inevitable that friendships will arise whenever people talk to each other on a regular basis. But the challenge for every journalist is to remain objective and, perhaps more importantly, to preserve at all times the appearance of objectivity in their product. By acknowledging a close friendship with Donahoe, Pasquarelli has undermined his entire body of work regarding the embattled exec. Indeed, we've had multiple league sources comment on Len's curious silence whenever things are going bad in Buffalo. By stretching the "close friendship" to include all of ESPN and ESPN.com, Len necessarily cast into doubt the entire company's objectivity regarding Donahoe. And this is much more different from Chris Berman's habit of "rooting" for the Bills on air, something he did long before Donahoe took a one-year detour through Bristol on his way from Pittsburgh to Buffalo. This is about maintaining the flow of inside information from a source by using the journalist's pulpit as a tool for helping the source to keep his job or, if fired, to land a new one. The other problem with the comments regarding Donahoe is that Len speculated that his "close friend" might be in line for a job that, the last time anyone checked, already was filled. So maybe someone in St. Louis called Bristol with an objection to the notion of Pasquarelli lining up replacements when pink slips haven't even gone out yet. Sure, NFL writers comment all the time on jobs that are still occupied. But Len's admission of a "close friendship" with Donahoe is the kind of thing that gives currently employed people who resent public speculation as to their predecessor a legitimate basis for *****ing. Our guess is that Len won't realize any adverse consequences, and we're not suggesting that any should be imposed. Hell, Mike Irvin only got a one-game suspension for concealing his arrest for possession of drug paraphernalia; under that standard, Len probably won't even get a strongly-worded e-mail from the boss.