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49ers Quarterbacks: Long Look Back, Brief Look Forward

I've been putting off doing this post on quarterbacks because there is simply so much to say, and I haven't had enough time to really sit and get into it. Well, I still don't have enough time, but we'll find a way through this somehow! The quarterback position for the 49ers has been one of need ever since Jeff Garcia left. Do you remember him? He was the last good quarterback to don a 49ers uniform. (But Ninjames, what of the mighty Super Bowl-winning Trent Diler?! Shut up. You just shut your face.) They've had an option here or there, but it's largely been one whole steaming pile of ... disappointment.

Going forward, it is probably the biggest question mark on the team, seeing as how they only have one player on said position on the current roster. Whether they sign a free agent or draft someone (or both), the 49ers absolutely have to address the position this offseason in a big way. If they do not, they will not win the division in 2011. Let's get to it.

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
2010 - Alex Smith 11 82.1 204 342 59.6 2370 215.5 6.9 14 10 18 60 5.5 3.3 0 25 140

Alex finished the 2009 season on a high note and was given his sixth or seventh chance to start and succeed on the 49ers since they drafted him in 2005. His stats that year had a lot to like about them, and many believed his abilities would be enough to bring the 49ers the NFC crown in 2010. It didn't happen, obviously, and there's a plethora of reasons for that at this point.

One could argue that it wasn't Smith's fault, that he played well more often than not, and it is definitely a fair argument. Smith's quarterback rating is decent and his percentage isn't terrible, and the circumstances that any quarterback had to deal with under Mike Singletary and Jimmy Raye had to be strenuous and detrimental to any kind of progress. You can't blame things 100% on coaching, but when an offensive coordinator is pulling his gameplan straight from a "Football For Dummies: 40s Edition" paper back while the head coach holds on to delusions of the '85 Bears, it's awfully hard to be a consistent passer.

There's a lot to dislike about Alex. He's the kind of guy who can make some fantastic throws and put a beautiful deep ball up there to any receiver willing to actually catch it. The problem is that he's also the kind of guy who can overthrow a screen pass four times in a single game. He has good physical tools and can make things happen, but he also has a tendency to always try and make the same exact thing happen when he rolls out the same way every single time. His toughness and competitive nature is something to be admired, but his ability to actually lead has been called into question on more than one occasion. Lob passes are delivered well and land almost exactly where he intends, while anything else stands a chance to be batted down at the line of scrimmage on any and every play.

His skillset, like his pro career, has been marred by inconsistency. Inconsistency with the coaching staff, inconsistencies with his receiving targets and his offensive line, all on top of his inconsistencies in his actual playing. One week he will come in, make multiple reads, and take a chance on a target at medium range, and it will be a beautiful throw. The next week, he'll be a rattled mess who checks down to his closest option without scanning the field, and the checkdown is usually too high, too hard, or a combination of the two, which leads to interceptions off of the hands of receivers. It's a vicious cycle.

The difficult part of inconsistencies in a quarterback's play, is being able to tell exactly why such things occur in the first place. We have to determine is there is a system in which Smith can succeed, or if he's simply not that good. I'm not sure where I stand on that front, as it sits. I can't call Smith's 2010 season anything other than "inconsistent," and "mediocre."

After the jump, we look at the other quarterback options on the 49ers roster, the 2011 free agents for the position and of course, the 2011 NFL draft ...

Troy Smith

Passing Rushing Sacks
G Rating Comp Att Pct Yds Y/G Y/A TD INT Rush Yds Y/G Avg TD Sack YdsL
2010 - Troy Smith 6 77.8 73 145 50.3 1176 196 8.1 5 4 23 121 20.2 5.3 1 18 112

Troy came to the 49ers with a fair amount of hype, including some from yours truly. I believed he had what it takes, and judging by his 2010, I was mostly wrong. He still has pockets of supporters around Niners Nation, and with good reason: there's a lot to like about Troy. Athletically, he's in the top five of quarterbacks in the NFL and he looks good when he does tuck the football and run. He's got a cannon for an arm and when he throws the deep ball ... man.

It really is pretty, he can hit his mark consistently when the pass goes sailing into the air. When you have Michael Crabtree, Ted Ginn or Vernon Davis running mostly open, Smith's pass will hit its mark more often than not. Then why, pray tell, did he only sport a 50.3 completion percentage in 2010? Because he doesn't always identify the correct target for his passes. His ability to put the ball in a receiver's hands is lessened by his inability to keep cool and go through his reads before firing his cannon.

His tendency to lock onto one receiver is something that will be very hard to coach away. Too many times he just went deep at his first opportunity and, while the pass was on target, the receiver was usually covered. I can't recall which game it was from, but I remember seeing a play in which it was 3rd down, with something like 12 yards remaining, and he rolled out to the right. He had Michael Crabtree about fifteen yards deep, running free, and definitely able to catch a pass and convert. Deep, he had Vernon Davis (I think) down the right sideline, but he was covered by at least two players. He never saw Crabtree, despite him being directly in his field of vision, he had already keyed in on the right sideline and fired off an incompletion.

It was a wasted opportunity and entirely indicative of Troy's overall game. He's not a lost cause, but his 2010 does not show much potential for a strong 2011 in a west coast offense setting.

David Carr

Passing Rushing Sacks
G Rating Comp Att Pct Yds Y/G Y/A TD INT Rush Yds Y/G Avg TD Sack YdsL
2010 - David Carr 1 23.6 5 13 38.5 67 67 5.2 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 5

It's unfair to say that David Carr would carry a 23.6 rating throughout the course of an entire season, but it's not unfair to assume it would be a sub 50 affair. Carr came in with a small bit of fan approval, and an awful lot of criticism as Shaun Hill departed for his arrival. It was just made very clear that the team had no confidence in him, when he came in for relief and failed miserably. Troy, then the 3rd stringer, lead-frogged Carr in the lineup and thus ended Carr's season.

He is the only quarterback currently on the roster, though.

Looking Ahead

The 49ers absolutely need to bring in at least two quarterbacks, potentially three. It's safe to say that at some point in the upcoming draft, they will be picking a signal caller. Aside from that and free agency, which will be discussed below, it is also possible they have a third option: trade. Players like Kevin Kolb or Matt Flynn could be pried from their teams with starters set in stone if the price is right, regardless of what any team official happens to say. They're both intriguing options, and Kolb seems to be a "fan favorite" to come to San Francisco.

Alex Smith is somebody that Jim Harbaugh likes, and going forward he has to be an intriguing option. Earlier in the article, I went over the dilemma of whether or not Smith is to blame for his bad play, or if somebody like Harbaugh could coach some greatness in him. He's the one returning option who can conceivably be referred to as an option. Troy Smith may still have a future in this league, but it's definitely not in a west coast offense.

I'll try and keep my Tyler Thigpen love to the side as I take a look at the upcoming free agents.

2011 Free Agency

Marc Bulger, Baltimore Ravens: Bulger is an option solely for the fact that he's had some time off to recuperate. He has always been a decent quarterback and could be a guy who comes in to start while, say, a rookie gets some action behind him.

Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle Seahawks: There's a trend of NFC West castoffs thus far, but I assure you that the next player listed will not be Matt Leinart. Hasselbeck is made of peanut brittle and is held together by duct tape, but he can still make the throws and can come here in the same vein as Bulger.

Caleb Hanie, Chicago Bears: Does one game make a hot commodity? Maybe so, considering coming in for relief in a conference championship game is an awful lot of pressure for someone so young. He's got a lot of talent and was once a sleeper of Mel Kiper's. Hanie is a restricted free agent, but I don't see the Bears making an effort to keep him around unless they feel like they can sign him and get a first round pick for him. He's sitting with a second round tender, presently.

Chad Pennington, Miami Dolphins: Pennington is getting up there in years, but his accuracy has always been top notch, especially with the short to intermediate passes, which leads me to believe he will be one of the better options to start while a rookie waits in the wings, especially in a west coast offense.

Bruce Gradkowski, Oakland Raiders
Rex Grossman, Washington Redskins
Kerry Collins, Tennessee Titans
Tavaris Jackson, Minnesota Vikings
Luke McCown, Jacksonville Jaguars
Billy Volek, San Diego Chargers
Seneca Wallace, Cleveland Browns
Dennis Dixon, Pittsburgh Steelers
Tyler Thigpen, Miami Dolphins

2011 NFL Draft

The 49ers will almost certainly draft a quarterback this year. They will possibly even draft two of them. One could come from early on in the draft, or one could come in the middle rounds. Maybe even both come from the middle rounds, who knows at this point? Two things are most important here: Jim Harbaugh has to like the guy, and he has to have the type of arm and intangibles to run a west coast offense.

To me, that means someone like Jake Locker early on, if the 49ers were looking for something in the second round, providing he is there. They could even trade up into the late first to snag him if Harbaugh likes him. He's got a good arm, and his accuracy is not nearly as bad as people assume. When one person questions it, the next person will, and eventually, somebody will embellish it and the critique will grow into this huge thing. His accuracy deserves some flack, but he still has what it takes to perform well in a west coast setting.

Other options a bit later on would be Pat Devlin, or someone like a Greg McElroy. The options are there, and much has already been said about them. The combine is going on right this second as I type this, so maybe more names will emerge. For now, here's a list of DraftTek's big board for quarterbacks. For my money, I do not see San Francisco going after either Blaine Gabbert or Cam Newton. The former may be gone, and the latter is not at all cut out for a WCO.

So we're clear, the quarterbacks I have my eye on personally are Devlin, Colin Kapernick, Christian Ponder and McElroy.

QB | HB | FB | TE | WR | OT | G | C | DE | NT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | KR/PR