The 49ers need a quarterback, that’s certain. Their options are free agency, the trade wire and the draft, maybe even at No. 2 overall.
And while the hit rate on first-round quarterbacks is obviously much higher than acquiring one utilizing any of the other methods, including Round 2+ selections, it’s fair to ask if the 49ers should really invest such high capital there this year.
The reason is, has the new regime had enough time to truly evaluate? Will they before late April? General manager John Lynch has been focusing on the pro game from the broadcast booth for the past year plus, and coach Kyle Shanahan was in a hive all the way up to the Super Bowl.
We got some more insight this week, too. The new 49ers head coach recently revealed a bit about where they are in the process, via Kevin Jones of KNBR.
"We're watching a lot of film, which, we're doing a lot together and a lot separate," Shanahan told KNBR on Friday. "John and the whole personnel department are going through the draft stuff right now. Which, me and the coaches aren't yet at the draft. We're watching our own players and free agents.
“We'll get to the draft really starting in Indy..."
So, Shanahan, Lynch and the scouting team are collaborating, while also splitting up, it seems, to cover more ground and make up for lost time. Smart. But 100 percent of Shanahan’s personnel-related focus at the moment is on free agents, while first-year GM Lynch and his squad have eyes on the upcoming draft.
Shanahan indicates he won’t seriously begin looking at draft prospects until the NFL combine, which starts March 3 in Indianapolis. Day 1 of the draft is April 27.
Even if Shanahan neglects every other position, that leaves a little over month and a half to go through all the quarterbacks’ games, taking into account each throw, making a decision on their floor and ceiling, determining if their game translates, and if so how long until it’s likely to round into form, finding out if this guy be a leader of men and elevate the level of play around him, and much, much more. There’s hundreds of hours of tape, and a thousand questions that need to be asked and answered definitively for each player.
And say there’s four prospects the 49ers are seriously considering in the first round (in what's been tagged as a relatively flimsy class)—Deshaun Watson, Mitch Trubisky, DeShone Kizer and Patrick Mahomes—that’s still a mountain of homework that needs to be done and not enough hours before the deadline.
And again, as Shanahan mentioned, he’s not yet had a chance to dive into the evaluations and get a read on this class.
And he’s the one that’s most integral to the success of the next 49ers passer. Shanahan needs to know that the guy he is saddled with is wired right, can make the throws in his system and has no excess baggage or defects that would be crippling in connection to what they want to do offensively. The land mines don’t end there, either…
Now, if Lynch and the 49ers take a passer at No. 2, it’s not as if they can swiftly move on in a year or even two if it doesn’t work out. Their wagon is hitched, even with a bridge quarterback in place for a year. They have to commit to the development or else this whole rebuild really gets started on the wrong foot. Not only would they have wasted the second highest pick a team can possibly have, but they would’ve missed out on grabbing a franchise player at another position of need.
They would also sustain their first real chink in the armor by missing on an eval and not having the foresight to pass on a player they didn’t have enough notes on.
This kind of miss, in the first year of a regime at such an important position, could create tension.
For the No. 2 pick, it seemingly makes more sense to take a more proven player at an easier-to-evaluate position like linebacker or wide receiver, which are also top needs. Reuben Foster, Mike Williams and Corey Davis obviously come to mind. And while I am by no means making a statement on these quarterbacks as individuals—I believe Watson and Kizer and Mahomes all may be quite good—it’s about what’s best for the 49ers.
‘Better to be safe than sorry’ could be the motto this year. There will be more leeway to take chances in the coming offseasons.