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San Francisco 49ers: A Look at Mid-Round Quarterbacks After the Combine

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San Francisco 49ers: A Look at Mid-Round Quarterbacks After the Combine
Michael Conroy/Associated Press

With the NFL combine in full swing, here’s a little self-test about your football fandom: How did you spend your Sunday?  Were you watching the Olympics end?  Spending time with your family?  Digging yourself out of the recent winter storms?  Or did you spend seven hours on the couch, watching skill position players run 40-yard dashes for the assembled NFL coaches?

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press/Associated Press
A family reunion at the NFL combine.

Jim Harbaugh spent his day viewing the so-called Underwear Olympics, watching potential 2014 draft picks be put through their paces.  One of the position groups he was paying attention to was the quarterbacks; with only Colin Kaepernick and McLeod Bethel-Thompson on the roster at the moment, the 49ers could opt to draft a quarterback in the mid-to-late rounds of this year’s draft.

Here are a few of those potential mid-round targets who brought attention to themselves at the combine.

 

Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois

Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports
Garoppolo excelled at tiny Eastern Illinois.

Garoppolo put up fantastic numbers at FCS school Eastern Illinois, throwing for over 5,000 yards last season with more than 50 touchdowns.  His numbers earned him the Walter Payton Award—essentially the FCS version of the Heisman Trophy.  He was fairly clearly the best quarterback at his level of competition last season—which is the major knock against him.

Garoppolo put up huge numbers against the likes of Tennessee State and Southern Illinois, showing off his huge arm and quick release, but how will that translate to the NFL?  That’s always the question when it comes to big fish in small ponds like Garoppolo.  Still, he has impressed through the Senior Bowl and the rest of the pre-draft process, so he’s definitely a name to watch as the draft process continues.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Garoppolo definitely turned heads in Indianapolis.

The combine gave Garoppolo the chance to show off some of the skills not readily apparent in Eastern Illinois’ shotgun-heavy offense, and he lived up to the task in the passing drills.  He displayed a quick, compact release, with ESPN analyst Bill Polian listing him as the most impressive thrower of the day, trumping his more-established counterparts.

John Clayton suggested that Garoppolo’s arm could net him a second- or third-round draft grade, and the general consensus Sunday was nothing shown in Indianapolis was going to stop Garoppolo from gathering pre-draft hype.

 

Zach Mettenberger, LSU

From a small FCS school to one of the biggest programs in the nation, we have Mettenberger.  Like Garoppolo, he’s got a cannon for an arm, able to put zip on the ball even under intense pressure.  He was great at the big-play ball, willing to take shots downfield without being overly risky with it.  There’s no question, whatsoever, about his arm or ability to make NFL-style throws.

Mettenberger’s big question coming in was the health of his legs, having suffered a torn ACL and missing the Outback Bowl as a result.  At the combine, he conceded to the gathered medical staffs that he’s continuing to progress in his recovery.  Equally important were his interviews with the coaching staffs, as concerns linger over his 2010 sexual battery conviction.

Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

Mettenberger’s recovery meant he didn’t take part in any of the on-field drills in Indianapolis, leaving evaluation of his throwing arm to LSU’s pro day on April 9.  He did meet with several teams and reported that all of them asked about the sexual battery counts.  He said that he was dealing with the situation honestly, letting the teams make up their own minds—not every team is going to like him, and he just has to hope that at least one team looks past his character concerns.

 

Aaron Murray, Georgia

Before Mettenberger left Georgia due to his legal issues, he was competing with Murray for the starting quarterback job.  With Mettenberger’s departure, Murray became a four-year starter at Georgia, breaking the SEC records for passing yards, touchdown passes and total offense.  With four years of success in one of the toughest divisions in college football, very few quarterbacks come out of college as battle-tested as Murray is.

Sadly, Murray is also coming off of a torn ACL, so he had a lot to prove for the assembled medical staffs.  He was already going to have questions about his physicality before the injury—the success of Drew Brees and Russell Wilson has decreased the stigma against shorter quarterbacks, but a 6’1” quarterback is still going to be looked at with a critical eye.

Michael Conroy/Associated Press
Murray's recovery seems to be moving along nicely.

Murray said he was a bit challenged by the interviews with coaching staffs, comparing it to speed dating, per NFL.com.  He also talked about his recovery from the ACL tear, telling reporters it was feeling “awesome," and that he was working hard every day in order to be ready for his pro day on April 16.  He received positive notes from several coaches who spoke with him, including Jaguars coach Gus Bradley.  All in all, it was a positive set of meetings for Murray.

 

Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech

Thomas is a different sort of prospect than the three above—he might well slip all the way to the third day of the draft.  Thomas is an athlete, first and foremost—an incredibly physical runner with top-end speed.  He’s strong enough to fight his way through would-be tacklers and has the ability to throw through pressure.  As a physical specimen, he’s among the best prospects available.

Thomas’ questions come in his accuracy and decision-making with the ball.  He only completed 56.5 percent of his passes last season, with a lot of overthrows and poor footwork.  He needs to take better care of the football as well, having thrown 13 interceptions last season and 39 in his 40 starts.  He needed to impress scouts and coaches in their meetings with him more than anything else, displaying his football IQ.

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press
Thomas wowed at the combine, but can that translate to an NFL field?

Thomas went out and proved his credentials in the measurable drills, turning in a 4.61 40-yard dash time, fastest on the day.  He also led all quarterbacks in the vertical jump and broad jump—he definitely turned some heads out there.  Mike Mayock pointed out Thomas’ complete lack of footwork but said he delivered the ball beautifully out there.  Thomas stood out among his peers, but that doesn’t answer the questions about his decision-making processes.  A true wild card.

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