There has been a lot of talk about The 49ers needing to either draft a starting quarterback or bring in a veteran through free agency.
I do not believe this is necessary.
As far as I am concerned, Shaun Hill has the skills and leadership abilities to be the franchise quarterback for San Francisco.
The 49ers have a long list of failed quarterbacks in recent history, but I do not know why Hill is automatically included in that list of names: Ken Dorsey, Tim Rattay, Trent Dilfer, J. T. O'Sullivan, and Alex Smith.
The last two years, The 49ers have a record of 12-20.
In the games Hill has started, their record is 7-3. Hill may have saved Mike Singletary’s job by finishing the 2008 season 5-3 (winning three of the last four games).
Hill may not have the strongest arm, but he is very accurate. He has a quick release, and has the mobility and elusiveness to make plays scrambling from the pocket. He is a competitor, and knows how to lead his teammates in the huddle. His teammates appear to believe in him.
Most of all, Hill has shown the quality that every great quarterback must possess. He has the poise and leadership to lead his team when a score is needed in the final minutes of a game.
His first start in 2008 was versus the NFC Champion Cardinals. Down 29-24 with just over a minute left in the game, Hill led his team on a perfectly executed final drive to the Cardinals' 1 yard line with 20 seconds left. Following a series of blunders and bad play calls by coaches, The 49ers did not score, and lost the game.
One of the "blunders" was Frank Gore having a clear path to the end zone off left tackle, but practically tripped over his own feet, falling just short of the goal line. Later, he admitted feeling dizzy on that play, a lingering effect of the concussion he suffered in the game.
Hill put his team in a position to win, and I attribute this loss more to the inexperience of Singletary as a head coach, then to the abilities of Shaun Hill.
Then there was the game on the road in St. Louis. Hill was having his worst game as a pro, with under a 50 percent completion percentage, zero touchdowns and three interceptions going into the fourth quarter with his team losing 16-3.
Most young quarterbacks would have let the dubious situation overwhelm them. Not Shaun Hill, he did not let his poor performance hinder him. Another quality of great quarterbacks is to forget what happened earlier, and just move forward.
Hill led The 49ers on two fourth quarter drives ending in touchdown passes with under five minutes left in the game. In all, he was 10-15 passing for 127 yards and two touchdowns in that final quarter. San Francisco won the game 17-16.
The final game of the year was at home against Washington.
The game appeared to be heading to overtime after the Redskins tied the game at 24-24 with just over a minute remaining in the game. Shaun Hill was able to complete three passes for 52 yards (including a critical third down conversion) leading the 49ers to The Redskins’ 21 yard line. Moments later, Joe Nedney kicked the game winning field goal as time expired.
Just minutes after that last game, The 49ers announced plans to offer Mike Singletary a contract to remain as Head Coach of the team.
Hill has thrown some bad passes, and is still learning to eliminate mistakes. In his short career, he has thrown 18 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Keep in mind, he has only played in 12 games, so that touchdown to interception ratio is pretty good.
Putting that in perspective, consider that in 16 games, Matt Ryan threw 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in his rookie 2008 campaign. Ryan is being hailed as the next great franchise quarterback, yet Hill has a better ratio.
I am not attempting to diminish Ryan’s value, but I am making a case that Shaun Hill deserves a lot more respect than he has received.
The 49ers may want to seek a veteran backup quarterback for insurance, but as far as the 2009 NFL Draft and the upcoming free agency, San Francisco should spend their money at other positions when looking to upgrade the starting lineup.
Shaun Hill has the skills and the necessary intangibles to lead San Francisco into playoff contention in 2009 and beyond.