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49ers post-free agency position review: Quarterback

The 49ers will look a whole lot different at quarterback in 2017.

This sure is the big one, isn’t it? The San Francisco 49ers have tried a number of things at quarterback, a startling amount since they took Alex Smith in the first round of ... gosh, that draft so very long ago. Shaun Hill, J.T. O’Sullivan, Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick all started at quarterback for the 49ers, and only one of those players ever had a chance of doing anything decent for the franchise.

I don’t know if Kaepernick would have found further success and righted his career had Jim Harbaugh got along better with Trent Baalke and Jed York. Something tells me that, if this were actually a positive atmosphere for development and team-building, there was a good chance of that.

But Baalke and York were toxic from the start and not only did Harbaugh and Kaepernick never have a chance, neither did Jim Tomsula, Chip Kelly or even Blaine Gabbert. Part of me hopes that York isn’t as bad as most of us feel, and that he lost control of Baalke, but that would be mighty convenient.

Whatever the case, we can only hope they’ve learned some lessons and they, at the very least, have an intriguing guy in charge to potentially develop their next quarterback in Kyle Shanahan. Only time will tell if things go awry with John Lynch and on the York level once again, but if not, then the 49ers made perhaps the best move of the offseason to wait and roll the dice on Shanahan.

Last season, San Francisco went with Kaepernick, Gabbert and Christian Ponder at quarterback. Kaepernick wasn’t healthy to start the season, and Gabbert sucked. He sucked enough that Kaepernick took over, and Kaepernick actually played really solid football.

But it was too little, too late.

Free agency

Kaepernick, feeling like he was either going to get released anyway or simply too fed up with the 49ers, elected to opt out of his contract this offseason. He’s still unsigned, which I’m disappointed about, but a return to the 49ers certainly isn’t in the cards at this point.

They also did not re-sign Ponder or Gabbert, leaving the depth chart empty. But the 49ers quickly remedied that situation by going out and signing veteran Brian Hoyer. I am actually part of a small group of people who consider themselves Hoyer fans and I feel good about the signing. In the right hands, Hoyer can be a productive quarterback.

To fill out the roster, they also brought in Matt Barkley. I actually did some extensive watching of Barkley in his limited time last season, and wrote this piece for the SB Nation mothership. I think there’s some raw talent there but at this point, I think he’s a backup. An interesting signing, either way.

Going forward

The position, of course, is far from settled. Hoyer may be productive under Shanahan, but a depth chart of Hoyer and Barkley isn’t exactly exciting. They will almost certainly bring in a rookie to fill it out and roll with three quarterbacks next season. I could even see a fourth quarterback given Shanahan’s background.

Both of those quarterbacks would almost certainly be rookies.

The big question, of course, is whether or not those rookies would come in the early rounds or not. The 49ers can spend the second overall pick on a guy, or they have other options. The big thing is that said rookie doesn’t need to start right away and shouldn’t be expected to.

I personally am totally fine with a quarterback at number two. I think fans overthink the concept of draft positioning and taking a guy too early. Was Gabbert taken too early? Looking back, of course. Even at the time, there were people that thought as much. But the point I’m trying to make is that if John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan truly feel a guy can be their franchise quarterback, there is no such thing as “too early.”

But we don’t know how they feel. Below, I’m going to list out some quarterbacks from the upcoming draft. The goal here is to list a few high-round guys and a few late-round guys, and if you have other guys you like or are excited about, please list them in the comments because this is not meant to be a definitive list by any means.

NFL Draft

Deshaun Watson, Clemson: Perhaps the most divisive player in the NFL Draft, I personally like Watson a lot. He’s the one at the crux of the “No. 2 overall is too early” argument and while I can’t personally say I feel good enough about him to be positive he can be a franchise quarterback, I think he is a first-round talent. Some have suggested he could go in the second or third, and I just don’t see it. I do know that he has issues with his accuracy and I do agree that he has a long way to go before he masters a pro-style offense, however.

Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina: Trubisky is an efficient player and he’s accurate. At this point, that’s enough to make a first-round quarterback, and that’s what Trubisky is. He’s not a sexy player, he’s not a huge-play guy or anything like that. But he’s nearly complete, if unremarkable.

DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame: An impressive physicality mixed with superb accuracy make Kizer another sure-fire first-round quarterback. He also has the arm strength required to make the big throws. But he has a tendency to be streaky, in a very bad way. When he struggles, he really struggles, and he almost never recovers in time.

Davis Webb, California: Folks here may be more familiar with Webb due to his Cal connection. He has a good arm, good pocket presence and is generally aware of most things going on around him. Unfortunately, being aware of those things doesn’t always lead to him making the best decisions. He makes a lot of mistakes and it’s maddening because it’s obvious he should know better. If he’s around in the fourth round, which is not guaranteed in the slightest, it sure would be nice. But there is still talk he could go in the late first or early second.

Trevor Knight, Texas A&M: Knight suffered from low accuracy at Texas A&M, but I love his arm and his presence on the field. They ran a massively vertical offense that was never meant to be a high-percentage offense, so I’m not worried about his completion percentage. He’s a solid developmental prospect in the fifth to seventh round.

Nate Peterman, Pittsburgh: He’s very accurate, and his timing throws are some of the best in the class. He went kind of under the radar until the Senior Bowl, where he had a nice showing. He has a lot of developmental potential and would be a good mid-round pickup for any team looking to develop.