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Niners whittle draft list to four

SAN FRANCISCO (April 7, 2005) -- Mike Nolan has narrowed the San Francisco 49ers' list of probable No. 1 draft choices to four names. That list will get even smaller in the next week -- perhaps even shrinking down to one player before next weekend.

Quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith, receiver Braylon Edwards and cornerback Antrel Rolle will visit the 49ers' training complex in Santa Clara over the next five days for interviews and possible workouts with the club's new coaching staff.

After wrapping up his first minicamp last weekend, Nolan is spending most of his time these days getting ready to make the first overall pick. While he still would entertain offers to trade down, he has focused on those four college stars as the finalists for the big bucks and big expectations that come with being the top selection.

"We should know in a week or so," Nolan said. "We have people we think (about), and then we kind of oscillate a little bit, but it is very close with those players. If you took any one of them, I think you've got an NFL player that is going to play very well for very long.

"It really gets down to ... who do we want our football team to look like, and who matches all of those things the very best."

The 49ers have holes in almost every area after finishing a league-worst 2-14. Given complete authority by owner John York to rebuild the club, Nolan has installed a new 3-4 defense, replaced nearly every coach from Dennis Erickson's staff and revamped San Francisco's personnel department.

But the draft will be the biggest day so far for Nolan and Scot McCloughan, the new vice president of player personnel. The 49ers also have the first picks of the second and third rounds, and Nolan hopes to land immediate starters with all three choices.

Nolan already has spoken to the agents for all four possible No. 1 selections, and the Niners' front office plans to hold contract discussions with all four before Nolan makes his decision. But Nolan claimed the players' financial demands won't determine the Niners' draft choice.

"It could factor in to some degree, but certainly we want to get the best player for us most importantly," he said.

Rodgers, the hard-throwing California product, is considered the favorite -- though Smith impressed the club in a workout in Salt Lake City earlier this week. The 49ers wanted to see Smith's effectiveness while taking snaps under center, which he rarely did during Utah's undefeated season.

But Rodgers' poise, technique and arm strength have impressed Nolan, who has expressed his desire for a quarterback who's also a commanding leader. Tim Rattay, the undersized seventh-round draft pick who started nine games last season while battling several injuries, has been quiet and seemingly unassertive, though Nolan praised his quick grasp of their new offense.

The 49ers desperately need an athletic receiver as good as Edwards, who might be the best player available. They have discussed signing troubled veteran David Boston, though Nolan doesn't plan to pursue Boston seriously until after the draft.

Nolan also requested an in-depth interview with Rolle, the standout defensive back from the University of Miami, after his experiences with former Hurricanes Ray Lewis and Ed Reed when Nolan was defensive coordinator in Baltimore.

There's no clear-cut top choice in the field, and Nolan still seems to hold out hope for an attractive trade offer that would take much of the uncertainty out of a tough selection.

"I'm very confident that I'll be pleased with the first-round pick if we take it," Nolan said. "I feel already confident about that right now. It's just a matter of which one it is."

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