New 49ers Gold Rush Begins With a Quarterback

Ted SillanpaaAnalyst IApril 21, 2010

Does anybody really want to see another photograph of Sam Bradford or Jimmy Clausen?

I didn't think so. Enjoy the 49ers' Gold Rush cheerleaders.

There are precious few hours left before Thursday's first round kicks off to argue over whether the 49ers should select an offensive tackle, a defensive back, a pass-rusher or quarterback Jimmy Clausen in the first round.

Oh, you don't think the 49ers should draft a quarterback?

Too bad.

The 49ers have decided that they're not certain that Alex Smith is ever going to be a winner. The York family fancies former Notre Dame star Clausen a blue-chip quarterback. He's in the first-round mix.

Wait. Look at the Gold Rush. Relax.

There's no arguing that the 49ers need an offensive tackle and a cornerback. When considering how the 49ers should use the 13th and 17th overall picks on Thursday, we have to decide whether Alex Smith, David Carr and Nate Davis are capable of ever quarterbacking an NFL playoff team.

Close your eyes and imagine the offensive tackle snagged at No. 13 running out of the tunnel at Cowboys Stadium before next year's Super Bowl. Envision cornerback Joseph Haden, free of his University of Florida colors, shutting down wide receivers in the NFC title game.

Don't open your eyes yet.

As you dream of the glory that will follow the 49ers' filling holes with their two first-round picks, imagine the starting offense being introduced.

Confetti. Smoke. Loud music. Ahhhh....the 49ers Gold Rush high-kicking to the beat...

"...and at quarterback, No. 11...Alex Smith!"

If you're still daydreaming, you're set. Take that offensive tackle. Grab Haden at No. 17. Plan on a playoff run that very well could end in the Super Bowl in 2011.

If you're suddenly shaking your head and muttering, "No way Alex Smith can quarterback a team all the way to the Super Bowl," you've got a problem. You've just realized that the 49ers, like every other NFL team need a first-rate starting quarterback in order to consistently win championships.

And, you've finally decided that Smith can't do the job.

Now, what do you think the 49ers should do with the two first-round picks?

Hold it. One more thing to consider.

The 49ers are considered to be on the brink of becoming clear favorites to win the NFC West. It's winnin' time in San Francisco.

Mike Lombardi, of the National Football Post, said that the 49ers would be best served if they "finally admit they need a quarterback," and draft accordingly. Lombardi knows his business and led me to the conclusion that the 49ers need a quarterback and that the quarterback is available this season.

When I learned that Smith's biggest problem on the field was his lack of self-confidence on it and off of it, I really felt for him. The guy has trouble believing in himself, yet we all expect him to go from being the first overall pick in the NFL draft to quarterbacking the team of Joe Montana and Steve Young to a championship.

Smith is criticized for lacking confidence while NFL analysts are criticizing Clausen for having too much confidence. Weird, isn't it?

You can't coach confidence. You can't coach that swagger or cool, cocksure calm that enables a quarterback to find peace (and an open receiver) when his whole world is crumbling around him. You can't coach toughness.

I've decided that the 49ers need to come out of Thursday's draft with a quarterback who can lead an NFL playoff team sooner rather than later.

For weeks, I felt the 49ers could use this draft to build an NFC championship-type team with Alex Smith at quarterback. I thought that the University of Florida's Tim Tebow would be the perfect developmental quarterback for a team coached by the NFL's legendary mouth-smasher Mike Singletary.

I changed my mind about Smith and that changes everything.

Things changed when I was told that the organization is, at best, split on whether or not Smith can succeed. There needs to be a quarterback on the roster that the organization believes in.

I'd draft a guy who can make all the throws.

I'd draft a guy who comes to the 49ers after learning the game from a proven NFL coach like, oh, Charlie Weis.

The quarterback would be a guy with proven physical toughness. A guy who has played hurt for his team when, really, it would've served him to sit down. Say a guy who played most of the 2009 season with torn tendons in his foot.

And, I'd want a guy who is wildly confident and sure of himself, even if it bothers sports writers and guys who want their NFL draft prospects to grovel.

I thought the 49ers needed a developmental quarterback and felt Tebow fit that bill. I was wrong. Tebow's not in the equation for the 49ers, so what I like about him is literally irrelevant.

The 49ers need a quarterback who can take a pretty good team and make it great—real soon. They need a pure passer who, unlike Smith, has played under center and has proven he can lead while in the spotlight.

Clausen's the 49ers' guy at No. 13.

I saw every Notre Dame game throughout Clausen's career and he can play. I never questioned that he could win the NFL, just whether or not the 49ers needed him given that we all thought the club believed in Smith.

Clausen can make the throws, read defenses and will play hurt. And, even ESPN analyst Todd McShay's biggest question about the guy is that he already knows so much about playing quarterback in the NFL that he might not improve as much as other draft-eligibles. (So, it's a strength to come to the NFL lacking knowledge of how to play in the NFL?)

Whatever success the Irish have had the last few years was the result of Clausen leading late-game comebacks and otherwise having to carry a weak defense while playing behind a weaker offensive line.

We were put off by Clausen's style in interviews? I felt foolish for questioning Clausen when somebody mentioned that more than one pro scout said that Clausen handles himself he same way that John Elway did. I interviewed Elway and Montana. People didn't love them for their willingness to help little old ladies across the street and respond to praise with, "Aw, shucks...t'weren't nuthin'..." They were bold, confident leaders.

NFL quarterbacks don't really have room to question themselves. If they make a mistake, they have to be able to put it behind him them in seconds and it doesn't matter how they do it.

The receiver didn't see the hand signal and didn't change his route? Screw-up. Call the next the next play.

The 49ers should draft Jimmy Clausen on Thursday.


Ted Sillanpaa is a San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area sports writer and columnist. Contact Ted at




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