Quarterback: Long look back, brief look forward

Now that we're fully into the 49ers offseason, I thought I'd bring back a feature from last year: the long look back, brief look forward.  We're at a point where the season is complete and there is plenty to review, but we also want to take a brief look at what free agency and the draft might hold for the 49ers.  We'll have plenty of posts related to both, but this gives us an initial all-encompassing look.  We'll post the stats for the players before the jump, with all the juicy details after the jump.

For each one of these I thought it'd be fun to link to last year's post on the given position.  It gives us a chance to go in the way-back machine and see what changes the 49ers made.  Here's last year's look at the quarterbacks.  I love the fact that 3 people actually voted that Just Turnovers would be the QB week 1 of the 2009 season.

I decided to go with the position that will likely raise the most debate: quarterback.  I'd actually argue there is a bit less uncertainty at the position this year, as compared to last year.  The position is by no means settled, but I think Shaun Hill has more or less been eliminated from the equation (more on that below) and Alex Smith has shown improvement, although not enough to satisfy many people (a reasonable argument for some).

I included a poll asking who you think will be starting the final week of the regular season.  In voting, don't assume the team will be resting their starters for a playoff bid or anything like that.  Assume they've got something to play for so whomever is the #1 QB will be playing.  I think most folks can acknowledge that Alex Smith will probably be starting week 1 (even if the team drafted another QB).  The end of the season is a different story.

Shaun Hill


Passing Rushing Sacks
G Rating Comp Att Pct Yds Y/G Y/A TD INT Rush Yds Y/G Avg TD Sack YdsL
2009 - Shaun Hill 6 79.6 87 155 56.1 943 157.2 6.1 5 2 8 70 11.7 8.8 0 18 107


Alex Smith


Passing Rushing Sacks
G Rating Comp Att Pct Yds Y/G Y/A TD INT Rush Yds Y/G Avg TD Sack YdsL
2009 - Alex Smith 11 81.5 225 372 60.5 2350 213.6 6.3 18 12 24 51 4.6 2.1 0 22 134

Shaun Hill: We might as well go in order with the QB position.  Hill won the job in training camp, although it wasn't exactly a dominating performance by Hill.  Preseason doesn't mean a whole lot, but maybe we should have been a bit skeptical when neither quarterback was able to really wow the folks at home.  In six regular season starts, Hill started out decent enough before struggling against the Falcons and appearing to run into a wall against the Texans.  At that point he was benched and Alex Smith began his quasi-revival.

Is Shaun Hill a poor man's Trent Dilfer?  If you place Shaun Hill on that Ravens Super Bowl team, could he have done what Trent Dilfer did?  At this point, I don't see Hill starting for the 49ers again, barring injury.  Hill is signed for one more year and would seem likely to spend that year wandering the sideline.  I just wonder if anybody thinks he could end up as a starter somewhere?  I suppose there's always the Raiders.  In the end, I'm just curious what kind of future Shaun Hill has in the NFL.  He showed he can play in the NFL, but just not at a particularly high level on a consistent basis.  That's gotta be better than some of the trash back-ups in this league.

Alex Smith: The wild ride that has been Alex Smith's career does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon.  If you look back at last year's QB review, check out the second paragraph of the Shaun Hill section.  Coach Singletary gave Alex Smith a vote of confidence and said he was "the quarterback going forward."  Of course, he also said the team was always trying to get better at the position and constantly evaluating.  So while it was more of an affirmation than Hill got at the end of 2008, it is once again a time where the season-ending QB didn't dominate enough to be the guy with no need to find another guy.

Prior to 2009, Alex Smith had not seen game action since November 12, 2007.  Almost two full seasons later, Smith came on in relief of Shaun Hill to start the second half of the 49ers week 7 loss at Houston.  In one half of play, Smith put together the best performance of his career: 15/22, 206 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception.  While he's had better numbers, he's never quite had a half like that.  That half certainly had 49ers fans a bit more fired up.  The naysayers would point to the fact that he had nothing to lose and no pressure.

Over the course of the next 10 weeks, both sides would have reason to crow as Smith provided up and down performances, showing a general lack of consistency.  Although Smith finished with the best numbers of his career, there was not a great sense of confidence in him as a long term option.  At this point I don't think anybody would say Alex Smith is clearly the 49ers long term answer at QB.  He would seem to be the answer for week 1 of the 2010 season, but beyond that is anybody's guess.

I'll close with my usual refrain.  If you give Alex Smith a better offensive line (meaning add a tackle and a guard this offseason), I think you'll see improvement.  If you give him the offseason working with Jimmy Raye, Mike Johnson, Michael Crabtree, Josh Morgan, Vernon Davis, and so forth, I think you'll see improvement.  If we get both of these things happening?  I think you see some solid improvement from Smith.  He won't be joining the Peyton Manning's of the world, but I do think he could legitimately be a middle of the pack QB.  And with the potential defense the 49ers could be rolling out, that would likely be more than enough to do some damage.

Looking Forward
I think it's safe to say we have a whole range of opinions as to what the 49ers should do going forward.  There is the crowd arguing strictly some combination of letting Smith continue for another year and/or getting Nate Davis playing time.  I combine them together because generally they are not looking to add a quarterback in the draft or through free agency.  Another group is similar to the above, but they're looking for a cheap veteran or late round QB draft pick.  Another group doesn't think much of Davis and doesn't like Smith so they want someone high in the draft.  There are also the holdovers of the Shaun Hill Fan Club, but they've quieted down a bit.

For these looking forward segments, I thought I'd just throw out some potential names in free agency and the draft for consideration.  We'll have plenty of time to discuss them in the coming months, but this is one way to consider the various options.  For free agency I'm checking out Football's Future for now.  It's free and a decent enough option, as opposed to the Insider options at ESPN.  For the draft, I'm using our friends at Draft Tek who compile some of the more prominent sites and provide some of their own insight as well.

Free Agency
I won't say the well is dry, but the options are rather limited:

Kyle Orton - Appears likely to be a restricted free agent returning to Denver
Jason Campbell - He's frustrated a lot of Redskins fans but I think he's a fairly talented QB.  I don't see the 49ers making a play for him, but he's a guy to keep an eye on (in my opinion)
Chad Pennington - Time's running out for Pennington after ending his season early with a shoulder injury.  I've been a fan of his since his days at Marshall with Randy Moss, but he's not an answer for the 49ers.

There are other bodies there, but I just see a lot of useless options.

2010 NFL Draft
The rankings below are from Draft Tek.  The players are listed in order of their positional ranking, with their overall Big Board ranking to the left of the name.  Whether you agree or disagree with these rankings, this is more just to get names out there.

4. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma
9. Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame
18. Colt McCoy, Texas
25. Tim Tebow, Florida
73. Tony Pike, Cincinnati
107. Jevan Snead, Mississippi
125. Dan Lefevour, Central Michigan
134. Sean Canfield, Oregon State
140. Christian Ponder, Florida State
177. Case Keenum, Houston
204. Jonathan Crompton, Tennessee

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