When 49ers general manager Trent Baalke met with the media this week, he was asked if the 49ers will take a quarterback in the NFL draft next week. “Yes,” he said, “but I’m not sure whether it will be in round one or round seven or somewhere in between.”
I doubt that it will be as late as round seven, unless that’s the second quarterback they pick, but I also doubt they’ll go for one with their first pick, at No. 7 in the first round.
That opinion is based on what Baalke said about quarterbacks in general and about four specific ones. A quarterback who is in an option offense in college can be a problem to train, he said. “Option quarterbacks usually go to their first choice, sometimes the second, almost never to the third,” he said.
That wouldn’t work for the version of the Bill Walsh offense the 49ers will be using this fall, and it also describes the two top quarterbacks in the draft, Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert, who are likely to be gone, anyway.
Baalke was not very complimentary about two other quarterbacks, either — Ryan Mallett and Jake Locker. He noted that Mallett has probably the strongest arm of the top quarterbacks but is not very athletic, another no-no for the system new coach Jim Harbaugh wants to run. Locker ran out of a pro-type offense but, noted Baalke, “He seemed to make his best throws when he was out of the pocket, rolling out.” That worked for Locker in college, but he’ll have to play under more control in the NFL.
Another cautionary tale for the 49ers: Quarterbacks are the hardest to evaluate because a quarterback’s mental attitude is at least as important as his physical ability. Probably the best example is the 1998 draft when Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf came out. There was a great debate before the draft over which should be the first pick. Manning was, and he’s had a great career. Leaf was second and he’s one of the all-time busts.
With that uncertainty facing them, I think the 49ers will pass on a quarterback in the first round, unless they can make a trade which will give them an additional pick in the round.
I expect them to go for defensive help, which is also a big need. If LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson — “a great combination of speed and size,” Baalke said — is there, he’ll be the choice. Otherwise, they’ll fall back to Nebraska’s Prince Amukamata and hope that a quarterback they like will fall to the second round, perhaps TCU’s Andy Dalton or Florida State’s Christian Ponder, who will work out for the 49ers before the draft. If you want a real longshot, Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick should be there in the second round, too.
How involved will Harbaugh be? Probably not very. Baalke said Harbaugh’s evaluations of quarterbacks will be vital “and he certainly knows Pac-10 players,” but he also noted that because of Stanford’s high admissions standards, Harbaugh didn’t see many of the top players when he was recruiting. “If you’re at Alabama, you look at all the top 100 prospects,” Baalke said. “Not at Stanford.”