Well folks, many of you might think that the QB discussion has been done to death. However, after Christian Ponder's strong Senior Bowl and Combine showing, I think this discussion deserves a different look.
It seems that most 9ers fans accept Harbaugh's judgement on picking "the right guy." Well here's what I want to know: if Harbaugh has Ponder rated as a 1st Round Pick, what's to stop the Niners from trading down to get him in the first, or even taking him at 7 to prevent a team like the Titans or the Vikings from snagging him? Some of you may think this is a huge reach, but I would like to know why. According to reports from the combine he threw better than anybody except perhaps Ryan Mallet (Matt Maiocco seemed particularly enthusiastic about his performance). When you look at guys like Locker, Mallett, Newton, and Kaepernick, people seem to be willing to dismiss huge concerns because of "upside." You get guys like Malett and Newton creating negative stirs with their media appearances, and yet they are still projected as 1st or 2nd round picks. Christian Ponder quietly goes about his business, impresses at the Senior Bowl and the Combine, and gets mostly overlooked. How about we take a look at the individual QBs from a different perspective?
Cam Newton: Let's be honest with ourselves here; Cam had ONE great season, and that's it. Based solely on that, he is very unproven. Guys like Abrauyo Franklin or Dashon Goldson have ONE great season and people say "well it's just one season in a contract year, they probably won't do as well next season." Yet Newton has one great season in a contract year and people are projecting him as number 1 pick. But that's just his play on the field. OFF the field, he was involved in a pay-for-play scandal and I've heard some stuff about him stealing a laptop. But that's just in college, right? Now that's he going for the NFL he's going to grow up and mature, right? WRONG! First off he holds his own personal show-off-for-the-media day. Second, he buys into his own hype calling himself "an entertainer and an icon." At the combine, he got outperformed by guys like Scott Tolzien, a projected late round pick! Any team that takes this guy in the first round is a fool!
- Could he be great? Sure, absolutely.
- Is it more likely that he will struggle through his first season or two? Absolutely.
- Is it likely he will be a horrible bust? Yup, good chance of it.
- Would he at least make a good back up if he struggled too much as a starter? No way, he's nowhere near humble enough.
Jake Locker: Jake is best described as Alex Smith's twin brother. Only difference is that Alex did pretty well in college, whereas Jake is making Alex's mistakes at a much lower level of play. Sure, Locker is a good leader, good locker room presence, and all around nice guy. Like Newton, he has "tremendous upside." Yes, he did play in a pro-style offense as well. So he should be a good option, right? WRONG! Locker is an extremely inconsistent QB. To be precise, he is a lot like this guy. The best quote from that clip is also a very good description of Jake Locker (and Alex Smith for that matter): "Do you ever hit the goal?" "Yeah! Well, 1 in 5." It really doesn't matter if that 1 in 5 passes is brilliant because the other 4 are so bad.
- Can this accuracy/consistency problem be fixed? Maybe, but look at how long it's taken Alex!
- Could he be a good backup? Yes, he has the leadership and humility and occasional brilliance to be a great backup. However, you don't take backups in the first 3 rounds.
Ryan Mallett: opinions of Mallett are all over the map. ( "He's a statue in the pocket, his footwork his horrible, and his accuracy on the move is terrible." "His accuracy is amazing, he has a rocket for an arm, he can make all the throws, and his mobility is good enough.") More concerning than his on the field play is his off the field demeanor. There have been rumors about drug use and bad work ethic. His interview with the media at the combine was just awful. Did he have to be polite to the media? No, of course not. But if you're interviewing somebody for a job you want to make sure he can get along well with the people he is interacting with on a daily basis (especially the irritating ones!). Mallet seemed to show in that interview that he has a very thin skin. Also, am I the only one that looks at pictures of him and see a huge beer belly? Seriously, the guy's off the field maturity scares me.
- Can his footwork be improved if necessary? Maybe. He's definitely not what you would call an athlete. It all depends on how dedicated and hard-working he is. If I'm an NFL GM, I'm not taking that risk in the first round.
- Is there any validity to the concerns about his off-the-field behavior? This is the big question mark. However, those concerns are big enough, and he is not so ridiculously overall talented to warrant taking that risk in the first round. Just my $0.2
Blaine Gabbert: Gabbert is an unknown. He seems to be a pretty sure thing. The only huge question is how his spread experience in college translates to the NFL. No one can really answer this for sure. However, he certainly carries significantly lower risk than Newton, Mallett, or Locker. If I'm an NFL GM looking for a QBOTF in the first round, Gabbert is the safest pick.
Well that brings us to...
Christian Ponder: I'm not going to get into college success. Locker has a losing record as a college QB. Let's just stick with saying that Ponder's team was a winning team that went to some bowl games. As far as that goes he is on par with the other guys. Ponder has good mechanics, excellent pre-snap reads, above average mobility (dare I say a little bit Steve Young-like?), solid accuracy, and played in a pro-style offense. The big concerns about Ponder are his arm strength and his health. As far as his arm goes, that is a huge unknown. It seemed to be fine his junior year, but was a little weak during all his injuries. He threw one duck in the Senior Bowl, but according to him the ball slipped. All reports from the Combine are that he showed better than expected velocity and was one of the top 2 QBs in the throwing drills, making the throws look easy. So that would not seem to be a problem. What is concerning are his injuries. If you look at Matthew Stafford on the Lions you can see how big a problem this can be. Ponder had one forearm injury this past season that was initially misdiagnosed and therefore took a while to be correctly diagnosed, treated, and healed. If I remember correctly he also had both shoulders separated at different times and had shoulder surgery. That being said, Sam Bradford had shoulder surgery and is now doing fine, and Alex Smith did as well and that hasn't had any repercussions.
- Can Ponder stay healthy? I think if he can be coached out of running with such tenacity, and he has a good offensive line and plays in a quick throw system he will be fine.
- Is his arm strength a problem? Depends on the system. In an offense like Harbaugh's, he would only need to make the occasional deep pass to receivers (cough, TEs) that are usually ridiculously wide open. Ponder already is a wicked talent at selling fake-hand offs and pump fakes.
- Are concerns about him crumbling in big games legitimate? Maybe. But if he can even get us INTO a big game, I will be happy. I think this is more coachable than the perceived mental concerns with Mallet and Newton.
- Would he make a good backup? Yes. He is very much in the Shaun Hill mold, but more talented and with better mobility and arm strength. (Personally I think Hill would do great in Harbaugh's offense too!)
CONCLUSION: I'd be pretty happy with either Gabbert or Ponder as our QBOTF. Not much to say about Gabbert. Ponder would seem to thrive in a system like Harbaugh's. Making pre-snap adjustments and being able to do things like no-huddle and audible are very important in an offense like ours. Also important are the ability to sell the play action and the ability to make quick decisions and make the quick throws to crossing receivers. These are all things Ponder already does extremely well. Also, having a strong running game (something Harbaugh relishes) and running an offense that uses a lot of quick passes would really help Ponder stay healthy.
SO WHAT? So here's what I'm wondering. I watched Baalke move up for Davis last year, and I look at Harbaugh's personality, and I see a lot of reminders of the Pioli/Belichick type mold. If you remember, Pioli is the guy that a took a guy at No 2 last year that all the analysts had as a late first rounder. There are a lot of teams that DESPERATELY need a QB, and most of those teams probably feel that they can get into the playoffs with just one or two more guys (including a QB). This pretty much throws "value" out the window. If a team falls in love with a player, they are going to grab him while they've got the chance. This could easily lead to a run on the QB position. Newton, Mallett, Kaepernick, Locker, and Ponder are all guys who could be studs, and all are possible first round selections. Every year there are guys taken way before or way after they are projected. Last year a lot of people had Jimmy Clausen going to the Niners in the first, but he fell a long ways. Tebow was a second round pick at best who went in the first. Taylor Mays and Navarro Bowman were both first round talents who fell.
So what I'm getting at is...would you throw a tantrum if the Niners took Ponder at No 7? Obviously trading down and still getting him would be better. If Peterson/Miller/Amukamara are there it's even harder. But if Harbaugh likes Ponder as our QBOTF, would you accept that? Obviously QB is a more important position than LB or CB. Ponder may not seem to be as good a QB as Peterson or Miller are at their positions. But the fact remains, we need a QB. I personally want Harbaugh to get his number 1 guy no matter who we have to pass up to get him. Willis, Justin Smith, Frank Gore, and Vernon Davis are great examples of how having a stud at other positions but a lousy QB can't get you to the playoffs. Even if we have the number 1 defense in the NFL, we can't win games if we can't score 10 points. Yes, I'm confident in Harbaugh's ability to "coach-up" a QB, but I don't think he's a god. You can't just give him a QB with some raw ability and expect the guy to be great. You have to give Harbaugh the guy HE WANTS! So one more time, if HARBAUGH likes Ponder at 7, would you trust him? Of course this depends on what happens before that. If Newton and Gabbert are both gone in the top 6 though, I could definitely see Baalke "panicking" and grabbing his guy while he can. I've attached a poll below. Please discuss in the comments, and rec if you like this fanpost.