A few weeks ago when the Jim Harbaugh courting process was in full bloom many of us had visions of a Jim Harbaugh - Andrew Luck 2011 off-season combination. That all came crashing down as quick as Harbaugh signed on the dotted line and was served to the 49ers. Now, the entire landscape of the 2011 NFL Draft has changed. No longer is there a prototypical franchise QB on the draft, and its effect was dramatic, not only for the 49ers; but for the rest of the NFL as well.
Many proclaimed Andrew Luck's decision to forgo the draft and return to Stanford for his Junior season was a major hit to the 49ers. Now where do we turn? Where are we going to get our franchise QB from? And, who are we going to target with the 7th pick? Well, these same questions are being asked by fans of the Carolina Panthers, Buffalo Bills, Arizona Cardinals and possibly the Cincinnati Bengals. The 2011 NFL Draft is now largely up in the air, and all the teams picking in the top ten are asking the same questions.
After the jump I will focus on how Andrew Luck's decision effects the 49ers. But, more than that, I will take a closer look at how it actually benefits the 49ers. I know that some may question how it could benefit our team, but read on....
Things to think about when determining whether or not Luck returning to Stanford for his Junior Season was good or bad for the 49ers.
1.Was there really any way that we could have actually traded up and acquired Luck?
According to SB Nation's 2010 NFL Draft trade chart, the 49ers would of had to give up the 7th pick, a 2nd round pick, 3rd round pick, the rest of the 2011 draft, and even a 2012 draft pick. Now, I understand that trades rarely work out as depicted on the trade chart. However, this is a barometer of what the 49ers would of had to give up to acquire the 1st pick. In reality, you would be looking at a team needing two 1st round picks just to approach Carolina for the first pick. Couple that with the fact that Andrew Luck is a true franchise cornerstone type player, said team may of had to give up more. Is Andrew Luck, or any QB, really worth that bounty of picks? My answer would be no.
2. Isn't it better for the 49ers that multiple players such as Nick Fairley, Da'Quan Bowers, A.J. Green and Patrick Peterson could be the #1 pick?
With so many varying depictions and versions of the mock draft there is no consensus #1 pick. For example, as noted in my thread Monday, Mel Kiper has Nick Fairley going #1 and Todd McShay has Da'Quan Bowers as the first pick. Additionally, other less credible mock draft sites have Patrick Peterson or A.J Green going first. With so many different opinions on who will be first off the board, this enables the 49ers the ability to actually scout and plan to pick the #1 player on their board, whether it is Patrick Peterson or even A.J. Green. Without a stand out #1 draft prospect we are going to see rankings change a lot over the course of the next couple months. Some teams may start taking the route of picking a need player over the best available option.
This could really work out in the 49ers favor as you could see Blaine Gabbert and Cameron Newton go top five. The reason for this is due to the fact that each teams big board's are going to vary more than in previous seasons. Another thing that plays into the 49ers favor are the teams outside of the top 7 that need a QB. By my estimates the Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars and Seattle Seahawks all have needs at QB. With a top of the draft that promises to be fluctuating you could easily see one or two of these teams trade up and draft a QB, much like what the New York Jets did with Mark Sanchez in 2009.
3.Wouldn't the 49ers have a better chance to draft Luck in 2012?
In 2009, the 49ers trade their 2nd round pick to Carolina for a 1st round pick in 2010. The key factors that played a role in this was that San Francisco didn't see anyone of their liking in the 2nd round and wanted to acquire another 1st round pick the next season to gain some flexibility. I can almost guarantee you that Andrew Luck will be coming out in 2012, thus giving the 49ers an option to play that card.
Of course this is speculative, but the 49ers could trade a 2nd rounder this season and acquire some more assets in 2012. Another reason that the 49ers would have a better chance to get Luck in 2012 is the fact that the #1 pick might actually be held by a team that already has a QB of the future. I really doubt that Carolina would have traded down, they have a need for a QB considering they ranked dead last in passing. So many different things can happen over the course of the calender year such as player trades etc... The 49ers wouldn't have been able to get Luck this season, so why not wait until 2012?
4.If we are looking to win in 2011, isn't it better to have a veteran such as Palmer starting?
As much as i like Andrew Luck, young QBs tend to struggle their first season, and the playoffs are really a long shot. I do understand that their are exceptions such as Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan and Mark Sanchez, but by and large starting a rookie QB out of the gate usually means dumping the playoff thoughts for one year. Of course, the 49ers could have drafted Luck and signed or traded for a veteran. But, i doubt that a Carson Palmer or Kyle Orton would have come to San Francisco with Andrew Luck breathing down their neck. Getting a QB of the future is not only important, but a necessity in the NFL, but the situation has to work out in order for said QB to succeed. The perfect scenario would be to trade for Carson Palmer or Kyle Orton, draft a QB in the mid rounds and wait to see who is available in 2012.
Generally, when you have a set list of the premier 4-5 players in the draft, there is a minimal amount of shuffling in terms of trades. This season we don't have that, therefore, you should see a lot of movement. This is bound to benefit the 49ers. I think that most of us can agree that the 49ers shouldn't reach for a QB at 7. I think it would be a wasted pick, and could set our franchise back. From all accounts we are looking to add a coverage corner, wide receiver or pass rusher. Movement in front of us will only help the scenario of a Patrick Peterson, Nick Fairley or Da"Quan Bowers falling to us at 7. If we see these trades, most likely the teams moving up will be going after an offensive player like A.J. Green, Blaine Gabbert, or Cameron Newton. All of those players are ranked lower than the defensive players I mentioned above. My ongoing theory is that two QB's are going to be selected in the top five regardless. This would be of an extreme benefit to our 49ers. It would limit the opportunity of our QB friendly Head Coach and rookie GM going after a "QB of the future" and reaching for one of the many questions marks in the draft. Secondly, it would enable us to get a player at a need position, such as Defensive End, Outside Linebacker, or Cornerback.
The six teams selecting before the 49ers are in much more precarious situations than we are in. Carolina, for example, is in need of upgrades at pretty much every single position besides running back. Denver had the leagues worse ranked defense, and with the possible exodus of Champ Bailey have yet another hole to fill. They brought in a defensive minded coach, John Fox, which means that is where they may go with the #2 pick. However, looking at their pass and rush defense, I would be more inclined to believe that they are going to go with a front seven defensive player. Buffalo may be in the best situation of the top 6 teams selecting, however, this doesn't mean that they don't have holes to fill. Is Ryan Fitzpatrick the answer at QB? Who is going to catch the passes? Is there young offensive line talented enough? And, where are they going to get pressure from on the defensive line? All these questions and more may lead us to uncharted areas in regards to the top of the draft.
Setting up other teams for failure in this draft is the fact that Andrew Luck didn't declare. Usually, you have your #1 pick (Sam Bradford), and the domino's fall fall after that, this season they won't. For example, some teams draft board may have Prince Amukamara as the #2 corner in the draft, while others tend to believe that Brandon Harris is the 2nd best corner. This does occur to some extent in every draft, but without having the set structure of a top 5 in place, this will happen more. The question of "best player available" and picking for need also becomes more cloudy in a draft like this. Blaine Gabbert may not be in any experts top 10, but he could go as high as #3 to buffalo because of the need they have, coupled with an unset big board at the top.
When factoring in need compared to BPA, teams usually use a scale that measures the importance of both. For example, Green Bay picking at either 31 or 32 may have Jake Lockerranked as the 10th best prospect, andhe might be available to them. However, withAaron Rodgers at QB, the BPA scenario takes a dramatic turn. It would go without saying that in this scenario Green Bay would not select Locker. The same goes for Buffalo at #3. If Patrick Peterson is the best player available, whywould the draft him? That isn't a position of need. Nobody would trade up to 3 unless they saw a QB of their liking, therefore, you would see Buffalo going with a need pick such as Marcell Dareus or Gabbert.
So, i would actually conclude that Andrew Luck returning to Stanford for his Junior season actually benefits the 49ers. Instead of watching him on Carolina or Arizona, we will be seeing him with Stanford for another year. At that point the 49ers may actually be in a better situation to acquire Luck. When a team is selecting in the lower half of the top ten, it helps that team to have a big board that is unsettled; and that is exactly what situation the 49ers are in right now. Of course we could live on the pink cloud and think that Luck would have been a 49er on draft day in April, but the chances of that were extremely unlikely to begin with.