2011 NFL Draft: San Francisco 49ers' Second-Round QB Dilemma

Matthew BeltranContributor IApril 5, 2011

Scouts worry if Christian Ponder can stay healthy for the full season, Ponder hasn't finished either of the past two seasons due to injuries in his throwing arm.
Scouts worry if Christian Ponder can stay healthy for the full season, Ponder hasn't finished either of the past two seasons due to injuries in his throwing arm.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images


 Without any signs of a collective bargaining agreement being signed, the hopes of the San Francisco 49ers trading for a veteran quarterback look bleak.  No Kevin Kolb or Carson Palmer means the 49ers will have to look towards the draft for relief of an underachieving quarterback group.

Coming out of pro days, the stocks of the top quarterbacks have been fairly established.  At the seventh overall pick, the top two quarterbacks, Blaine Gabbert and Cameron Newton, should be long gone by the time the 49ers are on the clock.

And the consensus disparity in talent between them and every other quarterback in the draft warrants the 49ers taking a defensive player in the first round (with this year being particularly deep in linebacker and defensive line talent).  But the 49ers may still get a shot at a decent quarterback in the second round.

I’m reluctant to name Ryan Mallet and Jake Locker in this discussion, despite some draft boards having the both of them out of the first round completely.  The mixture of first-round talent and off-the-field issues makes Mallet a wild card pick in the first round.

Locker’s descent in the draft has landed him as late first-round pick to an early second-rounder, a steep fall for the former No. 1 overall candidate.  A rocky senior year and inconsistent workouts have hurt his stock. 

Locker definitely has the talent, but he looks like he’s going to be more of a project quarterback than an immediate starter.

Of some of the other names mentioned this offseason that leaves Christian Ponder, Andy Dalton and Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick as possible second-rounders.

Questions about Ponder’s arm strength after surgery are slowly diminishing since his combine workout and strong pro day performance.  He has the accuracy to fit into Jim Harbaugh's West Coast system, completing 68.8 and 61.5 percent of his passes in his last two seasons at Florida State and impressing many at the Senior Bowl (seven-of-13 for 132 yards and two touchdowns). 

Questions about Sam Bradford’s arm last year were settled midway through the season and quickly changed to Rookie of the Year talks.

Dalton and Kaepernick are the two rising stars leading up to the draft.  Dalton has had a tremendous career at TCU, being the school’s all-time leader in quarterback wins and earning a program-defining victory against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. 

Dalton’s style is almost identical to Ponder’s: Both are accurate and efficient with the ball, and both quarterbacks have been described as having decent mobility.  And as some teams are in a dire need for a quarterback in the early second round, there's talk that Dalton might be snatched up later in the first round.    

Though some scouts question if his numbers are just a product of playing in a spread offense, as his decision-making has been poor when facing tough coverage.  A lot of the adjustments Dalton needs to make to play at a professional level are similar to what Alex Smith needed to make when he entered the league.    

Kaepernick has lived in obscurity until recently and has shown the athletic ability to literally and figuratively leapfrog over everyone on this list, as he rushed for a 1,000 yards in each of his last three seasons. It also seems that Harbaugh has taken an interest in Kaepernick, scheduling a private workout at Nevada. 

But of all the quarterbacks, Kaepernick has the greatest challenge in adjusting to a pro-style offense, coming from a funky run-oriented system.  (To be fair, the Pistol offense is gaining ground in the college ranks and has crept its way into the NFL, namely the Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger at the helm.)

Of the three quarterbacks, the real question is which one will still be on the board by the time the 49ers pick in the second round.  Miami, Seattle, Tennessee and Minnesota are all in the market for a quarterback in the later rounds, with Tennessee and Minnesota having two picks each in front of the 49ers.

And with Cleveland maybe looking for a quarterback in the second round, a trade up may be necessary for Harbaugh to land the quarterback he wants.  But this seems unlikely as Harbaugh has been talking up Smith since coming into the organization. 

With a veteran quarterbacks on the roster, Harbaugh may be confident enough to take whichever quarterback is available and get him ready by midseason if a change is needed.

Top second-round QBs:

1—Christian Ponder

2—Andy Dalton

3—Colin Kaepernick

Other quarterbacks of note (third round and above):

4—Ricky Stanzi, Iowa

5—Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech

6—Greg McElroy, Alabama

 April 6, 2011 7:45 a.m.>

Shock and Awebrought up a good point in the comments that needed a more detailed response than in the reply section:  

"I'm kind of hesitant to take a QB in the 2nd round. I'm well aware of our need to draft a QB . . . But I recently read an article that broke down how well 2nd round QBs have done over the last decade. It was abysmal. Recent examples include Pat White, Chad Henne, and Brian Brohm . . . The writer was of the belief that teams with a big need at QB tend to overreach for a player and draft for need instead of best available. Then they talk themselves into how good he is while glossing over his faults."

One of the key reasons why the team is looking to draft a quarterback in the second round is because it's a relatively cheap investment considering the nature of the draft.  Mark Sanchez, the No. 5 pick overall in the 2009 draft, signed a five-year deal worth $60 million with the Jets.  

The two previous No. 1 overall picks, Matthew Stafford and Sam Bradford, both signed $78 million deals for six years (with Bradford earning more guaranteed money).  If the Niners were to pick a quarterback in the second round, then the team can expect to pay somewhere around what Jimmy Clausen signed for, $6.3 million for four years.

Since there isn't expected to be a quality quarterback available with the No. 7 overall pick, the Niners can invest in a premier defensive talent in the first round instead (for considerably less money than a first-round quarterback) and pick up a project quarterback (read: backup) in the second.  Teams are also less inclined to part with first-round quarterbacks early on, unless they are of the Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell variety, while second-rounders are more flexible as their position with the team is generally based on performance and ability.   

There's considerably less risk involved in this strategy, while the pay off is debatable until we see them play.  But a lot of people have faith that Harbaugh can develop a quarterback, be it Smith or someone in the draft, while a Patrick Peterson or a Von Miller can have a greater impact on defense.  Overall, there are a lot of positions the team needs to address, but instead of forcing the issues in this year's draft; it seems the Niners are letting the draft come to them.     




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