The San Francisco 49ers are probably going to use an early pick in the 2017 NFL Draft to select a quarterback. Which prospect is selected, and when, is anyone’s guess. But let’s break down some of the top options the Niners have to consider.
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Oct 15, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Mitch Trubisky (10) attempts a pass against the Miami Hurricanes during the first half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Unless the San Francisco 49ers are banking on yet another season from incumbent Colin Kaepernick in 2017, the Niners are all but assured to be taking a quarterback early in the 2017 NFL Draft.
A lot of how this happens is up for grabs. We still don’t know who the general manager will be — at the time of this article being written — and it isn’t certain if top head coaching candidate Kyle Shanahan will accept the team’s likely offer.
Still, to avoid a quarterback in the draft would be foolish.
Unfortunately, this year’s QB prospect list in the draft isn’t quite as deep or NFL-ready as desired.
This likely means the 49ers won’t use their No. 2 overall pick to take the franchise’s next signal-caller. While a trade down in the order could change things quite a bit, looking at Rounds 2, 3 or even later might prove to be a better option.
Yet quarterbacks fall in the draft. Just ask Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, whom the Niners could have had at No. 1 overall back in 2005.
Oh, what could have been.
Nevertheless, let’s break down San Francisco’s quarterbacking big board for 2017.
Oct 29, 2016; Oxford, MS, USA; Mississippi Rebels quarterback Chad Kelly (10) passes the ball during the first quarter of the game against the Auburn Tigers at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
It’s perfectly reasonable to assume the Niners take not one, but two quarterbacks in the draft.
Right now, every quarterback on San Francisco’s roster — aside from Colin Kaepernick — is set to be a free agent in 2017. And Kap could opt out this offseason as well, becoming a free agent in the process.
The NFL free-agent market is thin at the position. And while it would be a good idea to add a veteran QB to the mix, the NFL Draft is going to be where the 49ers have to land talent.
So let’s take a look at a few late-round prospects worth evaluating.
Nov 12, 2016; Norman, OK, USA; Baylor Bears quarterback Seth Russell (17) passes the ball against the Oklahoma Sooners during the third quarter at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Baylor quarterback Seth Russell looks the part of an NFL signal-caller.
The senior probably would have been better off declaring after his 2015 season, especially since injuries ended his 2016 campaign prematurely. This will be a major question mark for a 49ers team trying to move away from drafting injured players.
Just like Russell, Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly is another player to worry about regarding injury. Only Kelly suffered a torn ACL, ending his 2016 campaign.
Before that, Kelly would have likely been a Round 2 pickup in the draft. His 62.3 completion percentage against tough SEC competition last year is notable. While his decision-making process is questionable at best, there is no questioning his strong arm and willingness to throw balls into tight windows.
But do the Niners want to have another ACL injury on their roster? Perhaps not, even if it’s a late-round flier.
If the Niners want to try the Nevada route again, Tyler Stewart wouldn’t be a bad option in the later rounds of the draft.
Stewart, 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, is another well-bodied quarterback with a solid 63.2 completion percentage in an injury-shortened 2016 season.
Like one of his Nevada predecessors, Kaepernick, Stewart has a tendency to hold onto the ball too long. He struggles under pressure too, which is a primary reason he’s fallen so far on many draft boards.
Oct 15, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya (15) scrambles with the ball against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium. The North Carolina Tar Heels defeat the Miami Hurricanes 20-13. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Ah, yes. The goal to find a quarterback of the future in Rounds 3 through 5. Heck, Hall of Famer Joe Montana was a third-round pickup, right?
There’s a strong chance the Niners target a quarterback in one of these rounds, using their first two picks — assuming no trade-down happens — to upgrade other points of the roster.
While not necessarily deep, there are some mid-round quarterbacks worth evaluating.
Virginia Tech quarterback Jerod Evans put up some impressive numbers for the Hokies in 2016, going 268-of-422 for 3,552 yards and 29 touchdowns against eight interceptions.
At 6-foot-3 and 238 pounds, he also looks the part of an NFL quarterback. The only problem is Virginia Tech’s offense, which won’t help Evans get a lot of looks from pro-style offenses without the need for some serious grooming.
Evans does have dual-threat capability though, and his 846-yard, 12-touchdown rushing performance is an indicator of such.
Scouts will worry about Evans being a one-year starter for Virginia Tech, and he probably would have benefited from another year in college.
At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Miami’s Brad Kaaya might be a little leaner than most scouts would ideally like.
And while he comes from a pro-style system, the three-year starter has more than a few questions about his arm strength. Maybe some added bulk helps here, but it’s hard to see Kaaya picked up any earlier than Round 3.
What he does do well — making accurate throws in the short-and-intermediate games — should keep him on most teams’ draft boards on days three and four of the draft.
Quarterback Davis Webb drew a lot more attention after transferring to Cal his senior season, where he was immediately plugged into Sonny Dykes system as a starter.
While there, he completed 61.6 percent of his passes — the highest number since his freshman year at Texas Tech.
Unlike Kaaya, Webb’s arm strength isn’t a major question mark. He can make the deep throws well enough, but adjusting to a pro-style offense is going to be a major challenge for the type of scheme he was operating under Dykes.
Sep 17, 2016; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Mitch Trubisky (10) looks to pass in the first quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco, of course, could use one of their Round 1 or Round 2 picks to grab a quarterback. And it wouldn’t be surprising to do so, given the importance and the need.
A number of names pop off the list. While the value might not necessarily be there at No. 2 overall in the draft, let’s accept the real possibility the 49ers trade down from their top pick to acquire more draft capital and make a first-round selection of a quarterback more likely.
Here are the top candidates, presented in descending order:
For good reason. Trubisky completed 68 percent of his passes this year and tossed 30 touchdowns against only six interceptions. Accuracy is certainly one of his calling cards entering the draft, and one could make the argument he’s the best in this regard.
But is he worth a Round 1 grade?
Possibly, but this would have to be somewhere in the middle of the pack. Still, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a team like the 49ers reach for him within the top 10.
If Trubisky isn’t atop analysts’ QB big boards, Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer probably is.
Kizer has only two years starting under his belt with the Fighting Irish, but he’s made both of those campaigns count, ending with a 26-to-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio his junior year in 2016 and a 58.7 completion percentage.
Unlike the one-read quarterbacks San Francisco fans have grown used to in recent seasons, Kizer is solid at reading through his progressions and hitting open receivers while under pressure. And his dual-threat capabilities add even more of a dimension to his game. Yet he doesn’t hesitate to stay within the pocket and deliver a well-thrown ball.
Like Trubisky, Kizer is a mid-round candidate in Round 1. So the 49ers would have to trade down to increase the value of this pick.
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson certainly turned heads in the Tigers’ surprising upset over No. 1-ranked Alabama in the National Championship game. And there should be no doubting Watson’s abilities to silence critics, which he’s seemingly done on a regular basis.
Jan 9, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Clemson Tiger quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) celebrates after a 35-31 victory against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
In fact, one ACC scout told me this is the kind of player who will wind up being a superstar at the NFL level before anyone ever realizes it. Not because of his skill set, per se, but rather because of his attitude and drive.
Those will have to be the attributes upon which Watson climbs up draft boards. He hasn’t exactly been a dominant collegiate quarterback, despite the championship accolade, and he still is considerably lower on Miller’s big board too. That says something.
But, if Watson is sitting there early in Round 2, it’s likely the 49ers bite.
Another prospect who has been trending upwards on NFL Draft big boards is Texas Tech’s Pat Mahomes.
The two-year starter’s numbers are certainly inflated by Texas Tech’s high-profile passing offense, so we have to take his 5,052 passing yards with a grain of salt. But Mahomes’ 65.7 completion percentage is commendable, as are his abilities to work within the pocket while evading pressure and deliver highly accurate passes with touch.