It is hard to imagine that the 49ers are going to come out of the first three rounds of the draft next week without a QB. In fact, I would be extremely shocked if they didn't. However, would it be the worse situation in the world if they avoided that position in those rounds? Without advocating that they do, I am going to make for waiting until the middle rounds to draft a QB.
I understand that we all have our frustrations with Alex Smith; and I am not different. He has not panned out, it really is that simple. That said, the current CBA situation has to be taken into account by the 49ers front office. No QB in this draft will be able to come in and succeed without being given the opportunity to learn the playbook, work with the coaching staff and take part in mini-camps; it just won't happen.
Also, we have to look at another equation: this is an incredibly weak draft class for QBs and their isn't a great deal of difference between the likes of Blaine Gabbert and Pat Devlin. Sure, there is difference, just not as much as in recent years.
Let me look at this in depth after the jump.
First, lets really do some deep investigation into the worth of Alex Smith to this team. Has Alex Smith been a successful NFL QB thus far? Of course not! Is he improving as a QB? Yes!
Alex Smith Splits
Last Two Seasons First Three Seasons
1 Interception per 32.5 Att 1 Interception per 26.2 Att
.601 Completion % .544 Completion %
32 Touchdowns 19 Touchdowns
22 Interceptions 31 Interceptions
6.6 Yards Per Att 5.7 Yards Per Attempt
11.6 Yards Per Comp 10.6 Yards Per Comp
214.5 Yards Per Game 155.9 Yards Per Game
15.1 Attempts Per Sack 9.9 Attempts Per Sack
I am not cherry-picking stats; Alex Smith has improved in every major statistical category over the last two seasons, that really isn't up for contention. Alex Smith's stats compare favorably to the likes of Kyle Orton, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning and are far above that of Mark Sanchez and Donovan McNabb.
Secondly, the 2011 NFL Draft class is one of the weakest since, well Alex Smith's draft class. You really don't have any "sure fire" franchise QB, not that you ever do in any draft. However, it is more magnified this season because you don't have a player that teams are clamering to get via trade up etc... Here are some scouting reports for the top QB prospects in this draft, not too flattering if you ask me.
"He has the size, quick release, arm strength and athleticism that should make Gabbert an excellent NFL quarterback. But with just two years as a starter under his belt and some inconsistency in the face of pressure, he also has plenty of work to put in before starting at the next level" (CBS Sportsline)
"As gaudy as Newton's production was at the collegiate level, there are significant concerns about his ability to translate his skills to the NFL, especially considering that he's only started one season at the FBS level. Newton wasn't asked to make complicated pre- and post-snap reads in Malzahn's offense and hasn't demonstrated the consistent accuracy scouts would like" (CBS Sportsline)
"Unfortunately for his draft stock, Locker's play regressed. The Heisman hopeful entering the season struggled with his accuracy (56.6 percent completions, and flopped miserably on the national stage in a blowout loss at home against Nebraska (4-for-20 passing). But he rallied the team to three consecutive victories to close the season, and the local hero led the Huskies to his first bowl game - and redemption in a Holiday Bowl win over the Huskers" (CBS Sportsline)
It is also important to note that the drop off from the likes of these three players to Christian Ponder, Colin Kaepernick or Ryan Mallett isn't too great. Additionally, the drop off from those three players to mid round prospects such as Andy Dalton, Ricky Stanzi and Pat Devlin isn't huge either. When you have a draft class that is so intermixed with "talent", it is likely that you are going to find a star in the later round, and a couple duds in the first few rounds. This has been proven over and over again. The Chad Pennington/Tom Brady draft comes to mind first.
Now let us take a look at the top QB prospects available in the 2012 draft.
1. Andrew Luck Stanford
2. Landry Jones Oklahoma
3. Nick Foles Arizona
4. Matt Barkley Southern California
5. Ryan Lindley San Diego State
6. Kellen Moore Boise State
7. Terrelle Pryor Ohio State
I think it would be hard to argue against the fact that the 2012 draft class is much better than the 2011 version; at least in terms of the quarterback position. An argument could be made that the top five quarterbacks from the 2012 class would all go higher than Blaine Gabbert, Cameron Newton or any of the top prospects from the 2011 class. Being impatient is a part of being a football fan, but sometimes you have to look into the future and understand the consequences of reaching for a QB in a bad draft class. I am not saying that none of the top prospects from 2011 will be stars in the NFL, a couple may actually be. What I am saying is that you don't reach for a QB out of necessity.
Now we have the CBA issue, and you cannot pretend that it doesn't exist; because it does. A rookie QB will not be able to come in and learn the scheme, playbook or even practice with existing member of the roster. In fact, until a CBA is signed or the court intervenes he won't even be able to negotiate a contract. A rookie QB is already behind the eight ball in terms of learning the necessary information to even be able to play.
This is magnified when said QB doesn't even get the basics that rookie normally get. It is impossible to imagine any of the QBs succeeding without the necessary preparation, and this isn't limited to the 2011 draft class. Sam Bradford, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan and Mark Sanchez would not have been successful during their rookie season if they didn't have the necessary tools to prepare for the season. Now, you take into account a weak draft class and it is magnified even more.
Now, lets say that a CBA is signed or the court intervenes. Are the rookie options much better than the 49ers could find on the open market or via trades? Will they come in and contribute more than players that have NFL playing experience? The answer is no. If you were to fast forward to the 2012 draft class the answer to these two questions would be much different, but unfortunately we do not have a time machine.
Just take a look at the players that could become available and tell me that you would rather have Blaine Gabbert or Cameron Newton with the 7th pick, Jake Locker, Ryan Mallet or Colin Kaepernick with the 2nd round pick. Carson Palmer, Kyle Orton, Kevin Kolb and Josh Johnson should be available via trade with the likes of Donovan McNabb, Vince Young and Matt Hasselbeck available in free agency.
Actually, I would rather take a flyer on Brady Quinn or Chad Henne for a 6th or 7th round pick. Carson Palmer, if traded, wouldn't cost more than a 3rd round pick or some combination of mid-late rounders. I really like the idea of going after Josh Johnson once free agency starts. He doesn't have a future in Tampa Bay because of Josh Freeman and could be had for relatively cheap. It isn't just the history that he has with Jim Harbaugh; Johnson is a stud and could turn out to be an All-Pro QB in the NFL.
It really doesn't make much sense to reach for a QB in a poor draft class. Couple that with the fact that the NFL is in the midst of a CBA issue, the 2012 draft class is much better than this version and there are great options in the free agent market; and the argument against drafting a QB in the first three rounds has a lot of validity.
Option A: Go after Blaine Gabbert of Cam Newton should one fall to us at 7.
Option B: Trade back into the late 1st round and draft Jake Locker.
Option C: Stay pat and go after Ryan Mallett, Andy Dalton or Colin Kaepernick in the 2nd round
Option D: Go for a mid-late round pick with the likes of Pat Devlin, Ricky Stanzi or Greg McElroy and sign/trade for a veteran QB.