The San Francisco 49ers quarterback situation has plenty of questions surrounding it midway through OTAs. Blaine Gabbert is getting first team snaps and Colin Kaepernick is rehabbing his shoulder injury. Most people point to the quarterback position before anything else in discussing the team's chances in 2016.
And so, it is kind of fitting that Football Outsiders founder Aaron Schatz took a look at the worst quarterback depth charts of the past ten years. He brought up the topic in light of the New York Jets situation. They have a lot of solid skill position players, but with Ryan Fitzpatrick still unsigned, their quarterback position is kind of a dumpster fire. They entered the offseason with Geno Smith and Bryce Petty under contract, and they added Christian Hackenberg in the draft.
It's an awful depth chart, but Schatz does not see it as the worst of the past ten years. His worst goes to Washington's 2011 depth chart, which included Rex Grossman, John Beck, and Jonathan Crompton. At No. 2, he had the Arizona Cardinals 2012 depth chart. That included John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, and Ryan Lindley.
Sitting at third? Our San Francisco 49ers and their 2008 depth chart. That group opened training camp with J.T. O'Sullivan, Shaun Hill, and Alex Smith. Here's what Schatz had to say about that group:
Consider everything you think right now about Robert Griffin III. Now think back and try to remember what you thought of Alex Smith in 2008.
Griffin was taken No. 2 overall, only one pick later than Smith. He had a better college career than Smith. We didn't do QBASE projections back then, but our system shows Griffin (QBASE 1193) as a better prospect than Smith (QBASE 789) coming out of college. As noted above, Griffin was awesome as a rookie. Smith, on the other hand, had minus-88.6 percent DVOA, the worst season ever for a quarterback with at least 100 pass attempts. As bad as Griffin was in the next two seasons, Smith was worse, with 32.7 QBR in 2006 and 14.8 QBR in 2007.
Going into 2008, Smith looked like a completely lost cause. It seemed impossible to imagine that he could rescue his career and actually develop into a reasonable, league-average starting quarterback. In fact, he was so lost that he was bumped down to third string by the end of training camp, falling behind two journeymen with almost no actual regular-season playing experience. (He ended up going on injured reserve after Week 1 because of shoulder issues.)
Instead of Smith, the 49ers' opening day starter was J.T. O'Sullivan, the Saints' sixth-round pick out of Division II UC Davis in 2002. He bounced between seven teams (Chicago twice) before he ended up with the 2007 Lions. O'Sullivan had a poor minus-25.0 percent DVOA on 30 plays in 2007, but Mike Martz brought him along when he left the Lions for the 49ers that offseason, then made him the starting quarterback.
Behind O'Sullivan was Shaun Hill, who had a somewhat similar history. Hill went undrafted in 2002, but unlike O'Sullivan, he had played for only two teams: He was with Minnesota from 2002-2005 and then signed with San Francisco. Like O'Sullivan, Hill didn't play at all in the regular season for his first five years, 2002-2006. He did manage an above-average 3.1 percent DVOA on 84 pass plays in 2007. He was surprisingly adequate when he took over from O'Sullivan halfway through 2008 and has gone on to a long career as a capable NFL backup.
As Schatz mentioned Smith went on injured reserve early in the season. The 49ers did sign another quarterback for the rest of the year, going with Jamie Martin. JTO and Hill split all the snaps that season, which was a train wreck of a year. The team fired Mike Nolan after a 2-5 start. Mike Singletary took over, and after a pair of losses, the team won five of their remaining seven to finish 7-9.
Reading that article took me down the rabbit hole of 2008 Alex Smith. I was trying to figure out when he went on injured reserve, and a google search brought this headline:
The roller coaster that was Alex Smith's time in San Francisco was kind of amazing. Good or bad, it was a wild ride.
- 2005: No. 1 overall pick
- 2006: Seemed to be showing signs of progress under Norv Turner.
- 2007: Turner leaves early in offseason, in the fall, Smith suffered a shoulder injury.
- 2008: Smith had surgery on shoulder, missed 2008 season, while head coach Mike Nolan seemed to question his toughness. Nolan was fired, Mike Singletary took over.
- 2010: Singletary yelled at Smith on the sideline, we were treated to fans chanting "We Want Carr!" Singletary fired after Week 16.
- 2011: Jim Harbaugh enters, Smith decides to stick around, helps lead the 49ers to the 2012 NFC Championship Game.
- 2012: 49ers pursue Peyton Manning, Alex Smith is a free agent looking for another opportunity. Smith eventually re-signs, gets off to strong start before a concussion costs him the starting job to Colin Kaepernick.
- 2013: 49ers get to Super Bowl in February 2013, Smith traded to Kansas City Chiefs in March 2013.
And that's just a high level review of Smith's time in San Francisco!
The 49ers current situation is far from ideal. Kaepernick is rehabbing an injury, and had previously asked to be traded. Gabbert showed improvement last season, but he had nowhere to go up at that point. One of the two might surprise us this year, but it is also kind of hard to get too optimistic right now.
But there's one thing to remember. At least neither is J.T. O'Sullivan.