For a brief time on April 23, 2005, Alex Smith felt sorry for Aaron Rodgers.

The 49ers — after much speculation — took Smith with the first pick of the NFL draft instead of Rodgers, the Cal quarterback.

Smith headed to the podium to smile and hold up his 49ers jersey.

Rodgers sat and waited "... and waited.

Smith sympathized.

"No question," Smith said last week. "To be back there in the green room is uncomfortable. Every single pick, there is a camera sitting on you to get your reaction. To have to sit there that long would be really difficult, I would imagine."

As it turns out, all that waiting might not have been so bad.

When the 49ers face the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday, quarterbacks linked by a draft-day decision offer a case study for football's Nature vs. Nurture debate.

Would Rodgers have struggled early if, like Smith, he had been rushed into action with a lousy supporting cast and a revolving door at offensive coordinator?

Would Smith have thrown for 4,000 yards if, like Rodgers, he had gone with the 24th pick and served as Brett Favre's apprentice before inheriting a fleet of top-notch receivers?

"I firmly believe that things happen for a reason," Rodgers said. "I think I was supposed to get picked by Green Bay and go through the experiences I went through here."


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Both passers are only 25, so it's too early for a final judgment. Smith will be making just his 34th career start Sunday, eight more than Rodgers.

But in honor of their first regular-season meeting, it's time to compare and contrast — OK, mostly contrast — their journeys to date.

At the heart of the matter is playing time.

TALE OF TWO QBS
The 49ers' Alex Smith and the Packers' Aaron Rodgers, who face each other during the regular season for the first time this Sunday, were the top two quarterbacks in the 2005 draft. Their careers have taken divergent paths since:
Smith Rodgers
Drafted No. 1 No. 24
College Utah Cal
Age 25 25
First start 10/9/05 9/8/08
Games 36 32
Starts 33 25
Yards 5,487 6,811
Touchdowns 25 46
Interceptions 37 19
Rating 65.7 95.1
Sacked 91 84
Record 12-21 11-14
Coaches 2 2
Coordinators 5 1
Surgeries 2 0