In part one of this list, six quarterbacks eligible for the 2011 NFL Draft were introduced with analysis on why the San Francisco 49ers should or should not consider targeting each as a long-term development project for their future.
Recall from previous articles that I have strongly advocated the approach of acquiring a veteran QB to lead the team in the near-term (pt 1, pt 2), and drafting a rookie to develop and eventually assume or at least compete for the starting job later down the road. In my opinion, there are no viable options in the 2011 NFL Draft that could step in immediately and be a comfortable fit under center for the 49ers. Part one of the list highlighted that well.
The bottom six included all the "top" options that will be available in April, including all QBs currently projecting in the first and second rounds. All of them possess undeniable talent and potential, but all of them carry significant risks as well.
The top-six options are all QBs expected to last until at least the middle rounds of the draft, which will allow the 49ers to focus on defense up front and acquire players that will be able to make more of an immediate contribution with their top picks. It will also spare the 49ers from the high salary that comes with a first-round QB and the temptation to start a rookie under center in a situation that is far from optimal for such an endeavor.
And now the exciting conclusion:
Virginia Tech QB Tyrod Taylor stands at No. 6 on the list. Taylor holds striking similarities to former Virginia Tech star, No. 1 overall pick, and 2010 NFL MVP candidate Michael Vick.
Taylor lacks imposing size, but has incredible speed, strength and agility, making him a dynamic double threat on offense.
Unlike most "running" QBs, however, Taylor has been heralded as a true passer as well. According to Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com, scouts marveled at Taylor's athleticism at the East-West Shrine game, noting, "He didn't use his feet to scramble, but rather to buy time in the pocket and exhaust his throwing options." Rang also said Taylor nearly always makes at least one or two throws which make him "wonder if he wouldn't surprise if given a legitimate chance as an NFL QB."
Taylor started games in all four years of his college career at Virginia Tech and was heralded by many as getting better each year. Scouts have applauded his maturation as an all-around QB and have been impressed with his decision making.
Taylor compiled a very respectable record and appeared in three Orange Bowls, winning one. Taylor possesses a lot of desirable qualities and could become a dynamic weapon in the right system (ala Michael Vick in Philadelphia). His overall skill set is similar to Troy Smith, meaning if the 49ers wanted to build an offense around that type of QB, Taylor could be an ideal fit.
While Vick proved last season what a running QB with passing skills can do in a properly-geared West Coast Offense, such an approach is not without risk.
Scouts have applauded Taylor's maturation into more of a passing QB, but being gifted with such mobility, one must question whether that progression will continue in the NFL. Vick's transformation from scrambler to Pro Bowler and potential MVP (with a stop at felon along the way) took years, and was probably significantly aided by the added motivation of wanting to return to the NFL after a prolonged prison sentence. Early on, many questioned whether Vick would ever be a legitimate passer.
Taylor has shown signs that he may be further along in this progression as he enters the draft than Vick was, but once faced with the transition from ACC to NFL competition, he could revert to old tendencies. While he was a legitimately complete QB in 2010, passing for 2,743 yards 24 touchdowns and rushing for just 659 and 5, as recently as 2008 he amassed barely more yardage through the air (1,036) as on the ground (738) and threw for only two touchdowns with seven interceptions, while scoring seven times on the ground.
The ACC is a competitive BCS conference, but generally does not provide truly elite competition. Faced with the significantly speedier and more powerful defenses of the NFL, Taylor could very well begin to lean heavily on his mobility again, becoming one-dimensional. He may eventually turn it around like Vick, but would the 49ers be willing to wait to find out?
All in all—while Taylor carries significant questions, his upside probably outweighs the risks. The prospect of landing a QB with similar capabilities to Vick should be worth a mid-round investment on its own. When you factor in that Taylor will likely be available as late as the sixth or perhaps even seventh round, and the prospect of him working and competing with the similarly-geared Troy Smith, this investment makes significant sense for the 49ers.
Nonetheless, like Smith there is an appreciable chance that Taylor may never become a legitimate long-term starter in the NFL, so if the 49ers decide to go this route, they will need another option. They would likely either need to secure a top veteran like Carson Palmer or Kyle Orton, or draft another QB along with Taylor as an insurance policy. Given Taylor's potential price however, they should be able to afford either.
Overall—a smart risk if he stays around until later in the draft.
Delaware Blue Hen QB Pat Devlin stands as one of the more intriguing options in the draft. His story is remarkably similar to Baltimore Raven QB Joe Flacco, who has emerged as a legitimate star in the NFL.
Devlin transferred to Delaware (an NCAA Division 1 Football Championship Subdivision school) from Penn State in order to get more playing time. Before leaving Penn State, he saw limited action, but got time in some significant games, including leading the Nittany Lions to an upset win over Ohio State.
In two years at Delaware, he posted impressive numbers, earning Walter Payton Award (given to the FCS offensive player of the year) consideration and leading his team to the 2010 FCS National Championship Game (which the Blue Hens narrowly lost to the Eastern Washington Eagles). Devlin seems to have the potential to become the next FCS success story at QB, following in the footsteps of Delaware predecessor Joe Flacco and current Dallas Cowboy QB Tony Romo.
Devlin lacks the size of Flacco, but is big enough to see over the offensive line and offer reasonable durability. Scouts have been impressed with his accuracy and touch, especially on end zone fade routes—something that could help slot receivers like Ted Ginn Jr. and Kyle Williams blossom.
Devlin has good down-field vision and continues to survey the field when flushed from the pocket. He lacks great mobility, but can avoid pass rushers within the pocket and extend the play—especially by finding a hot route receiver. He has solid footwork and good mechanics with a fairly quick release, allowing him to be efficient and accurate—two major assets in the West Coast Offense.
Devlin is also very smart—a former CoSIDA Academic All-American candidate as a finance major with a 3.82 grade point average. This should help him learn the sophisticated offense expected to be implemented by Jim Harbaugh and make Devlin a very coachable QB. Jim's brother John has certainly done well molding the former Blue Hen Flacco into a star QB in Baltimore.
There are always questions when a QB hails from outside the Football Bowl Subdivision—and they are certainly warranted.
Some QBs like Flacco and Romo have found success transitioning from their lower-echelon college environments to the highly elite and demanding world of the NFL, but there is a reason why these success stories are rare. The difference in competition even between a weaker FBS conference and an elite FCS conference can be significant. While upsets are becoming more regular and prominent (e.g. Appalachian State's 2008 victory at Michigan, and James Madison's 2010 win over Virginia Tech), the competition at the FCS level is still significantly weaker overall.
In addition, few if any FCS teams play anything even remotely resembling a pro-style offense—as spread and option schemes are almost unanimously pervasive. Such considerations have led many to question Devlin's true NFL potential.
Devlin rarely had to make tight throws against FCS defenses and grew accustomed to having a plethora of fairly easy options in the Delaware spread system. Devlin was able to lock onto his primary receiver without much consequence in college and rarely had to look off a defender to open up a passing lane. These are things that will need significant adjustment at the pro level.
Overall, Devlin comes down to a matter of cost. In the fifth round or later, he would certainly be a promising pickup for the 49ers, and even in the fourth round (where most draft boards have him slated), he would likely be a reasonable investment. If he looks like he may be gone in the third round however, the 49ers would be wise to strongly consider passing on Devlin. Harbaugh might be able to do a lot with him, but there would probably be more reasonable options at that point.
Senior QB of the Nevada Wolfpack, Colin Kaepernick presents another interesting option to NFL scouts. While his 6'6" frame and full length arm tattoos may make him look more like a linebacker or wide receiver than a potential franchise QB, his potential in the latter role is undeniable.
Kaepernick was a four-year starter at Nevada, throwing for at least 2,000 yards every year. He was extremely productive in the passing game throughout, never throwing fewer than 19 touchdowns on a season while never throwing more than eight interceptions.
Keapernick helped the Wolfpack steadily improve over his tenure, capping his career with a 13-1 season highlighted by a dramatic upset win at home over the then-undefeated BCS-buster hopeful Boise State Broncos. Granted, the win over Boise State was largely due to two critical missed field goals by the Bronco kicker, but Keapernick deserves credit for keeping his team in the game, especially after facing an early hole.
Kaepernick possesses a decent but not overly impressive arm. He has the ability to make most NFL-caliber throws, but his true advantages are his size and mobility. Kaepernick completed the rare feat of throwing for at least 2,000 yards and rushing for at least 1,000 in back-to-back-to-back campaigns when he accomplished such in each of his sophomore, junior, and senior seasons.
Kaepernick's production cannot be ignored. While he played in a very unorthodox and QB-friendly system in Chris Ault's "Pistol Offense," he deserves credit for his mastery of the system and his proclivity for efficient and prolific production within it. Kaepernick impressed many throughout the week of Senior Bowl practices, showing a smooth and natural ability to take snaps from under center—an area of major concern considering he almost never had to do so in college.
Kaepernick is an intriguing prospect and could become a serious weapon in the NFL given the right coaching and system. He has been slowly creeping up many draft boards leading up to the NFL Scouting Combine.
Kaepernick has an impressive résumé with much to be excited about, but he amassed most of those accolades playing in one of the most gimmicky offensive systems in FBS history. This has led a large number of scouts to question how smoothly and quickly his talents can transfer to the NFL (if they can at all). In addition, he played in the WAC at Nevada, and was able to decimate meager competition like San Jose State and Hawaii on a yearly basis.
Kaepernick's numbers are undeniably impressive but must be tempered given the system he played in and competition he faced. Former fellow WAC QB and Hawaii standout Timmy Chang, who set FBS records for passing yardage and total offense is an excellent example of how a favorable situation can lead to incredible college production but does not translate to the NFL. He threw just two passes in the NFL before moving onto the CFL and finding little more success there.
While Kaepernick showed the ability to take snaps under center at the Senior Bowl, he was unimpressive in game action—going just 4-9 for 53 yards and throwing an interception off a deflection. Taking snaps from under center will be of little advantage if he cannot then turn that ability into productive plays. While his Senior Bowl performance gave hope that he can transition to being more of a traditional QB, the isolated demonstration must be supplemented to be trusted.
While his mobility is one of his greatest assets, as with Cam Newton, the ground game may prove too big a part of Kaepernick's game for his own good. Kaepernick consistently expressed a desire to demonstrate his potential as a passer throughout the week of Senior Bowl activities, but unlike with Tyrod Taylor, his career résumé does not reflect such a progression.
Whereas Taylor developed a stronger and stronger tendency to pass as his college career progressed, Kaepernick's ratio of passing to running plays has remained fairly constant, suggesting he may become overly reliant on his legs in the NFL. It is doubtful Kaepernick is bound to become a WR or RB like college QBs and former 49ers Arnaz Battle and Michael Robinson, but his running game may detract from his potential as a QB.
Many foresee Kaepernick going in the third round and that is probably a fair investment, given his tremendous upside. In a system designed to showcase his talents, he could become even more dangerous than Michael Vick—then again, the same was said about Vince Young and JaMarcus Russell.
Kaepernick could be a great pick for the 49ers, but not before the third round, and not without a viable fall-back option. If he falls to the fourth round, they should not hesitate in selecting him.
Former Wisconsin Badger Scott Tolzien kicks off the top three on the list. Tolzien has managed to remain largely under the radar of most experts and scouts, vastly increasing his potential value for the cost he is likely to carry in the draft.
Tolzien started two years at Wisconsin and compiled a very impressive 21-5 record against tough Big Ten competition—leading the Badgers to bowl games both years, going 1-1 with a win over the Miami Hurricanes in the Champs Sports Bowl. His Badgers lost narrowly to the TCU Horned Frogs in this January's Rose Bowl.
Along the way, Tolzien set Wisconsin records for passing percentage and passer efficiency rating, highlighting his accuracy and efficiency as a QB—two traits that are critical for a passer in a West Coast Offense. His 72.9 percent completion ratio led all NCAA QBs in 2010.
His size is ample at 6'3", 205 lbs. and he possesses enough arm strength to make NFL throws confidently. Tolzien has experience taking snaps under center and also has substantial experience selling play action fakes in Wisconsin's offense.
Tolzien is intelligent and should be very coachable. He was named Academic All-Big Ten in 2009 and 2010 as well as a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar in 2009 for carrying a GPA over 3.7 in his major of consumer affairs and business. His charitable work with rare disease awareness for neuroblastoma has garnered national attention and speaks to his strong character.
Tolzien lacks the starting experience of many others on the list, as he ascended to the starting role at Wisconsin fairly late in his college career. This has led many to question whether his favorable 2010 statistics will translate to the NFL, or if he will revert back to the more mediocre statistics he posted in 2009.
Prior to posting a 72.9 completion percentage with 16 touchdowns to just six interceptions in 2010, Tolzien's numbers were much less impressive in 2009, as he threw for the same 16 touchdowns against 11 interceptions with a still-respectable 64.3 completion percentage. His performances in bowl games were also entirely average at best—going a combined 31-47 for 419 yards with no touchdowns and one interception in two appearances.
Tolzien's mobility is also an area of legitimate concern. Despite strong protection at Wisconsin, he still took 34 sacks in two seasons as a starter—with 21 in 2009. He also frequently posted negative rushing totals in games, finishing 2010 with -30 yards on the season.
Even so, there is plenty to like about Tolzien. While he did not play as many games as some of his other fellow senior QBs, he still had five years of experience working in a major college program, and his trials of fighting his way to the top of the depth chart may have given him more motivation to succeed at the next level.
Perhaps Tolzien's greatest asset is the seemingly huge rift that exists between his potential and his projected cost. Few if any reputable experts have projected Tolzien being selected before the sixth round, though that could always change following the combine and pro day workouts. If Tolzien does prove to be a sixth-round (or later) option, the 49ers should absolutely take a chance on him. He could be the steal of the late rounds of the 2011 NFL Draft.
One thing is certain however, he will not be wearing No. 16 in San Francisco.
Former national champion and long-time proven winner Greg McElroy stands at No. 2 on the list. If you are looking for a track record of success, you cannot do much better.
McElroy's track record of success dates back to high school, where he led Carroll High School to three state championships in four years while setting a state record with 56 touchdowns on a season and earning a Texas 5A Offensive Player of the Year award. His career starting for Alabama was shorter, but no less impressive.
McElroy earned the starting job in 2009—after having attempted just 20 passes as a collegian in his first two seasons in Tuscaloosa. He led the Crimson Tide to a perfect 14-0 record, capping the run with an upset win over the Texas Longhorns in the BCS National Championship Game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena (though one must wonder if results would have differed had Longhorn QB Colt McCoy not been lost early in that game). He followed that effort with a 10-3 season in 2010 leading the Tide to victory in the Capital One Bowl.
McElroy's 24-3 overall record and perfect 2-0 record in bowl games speak to his abilities get the job done, even if his statistics are not always tremendous. He showed the ability to fight through adversity, playing with substantial pain from a rib injury during the 2009 National Championship Game.
McElroy has the polish that goes along with being a senior SEC QB and former national champion. He has good footwork and pocket presence and has enough arm strength to make all NFL throws. He has good touch on deeper throws, can read even complex coverages, and tends to make good decisions in his passing progressions.
Perhaps McElroy's biggest strength is his accuracy and efficiency. McElroy boasts impressive career numbers on completion percentage (66.3) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (39-10). He is also efficient if not spectacular in big games, going a combined 19-28 with one touchdown and no interceptions in his two bowl games, including the national title over Texas.
As has been stressed throughout this list, efficiency and accuracy are among the most critical factors for a QB in trying to lead a true West Coast Offense. McElroy combines these traits with a proven pedigree and hunger for winning.
The primary knocks against McElroy are his delivery and the supporting casts he was blessed with over his career to date.
Perhaps the biggest concern surrounding McElroy is a much-discussed "hitch" in his throwing motion, wherein the balls rotates outward prior to him beginning to drive his arm forward. Scouts have expressed significant concern over this anomaly, assuming it must be corrected for him to succeed in the NFL.
Changing a QB's throwing motion is always a tricky task, but it certainly can be done. Tim Tebow showed enough improvement last year to garner a first round selection (though many rightfully question the wisdom behind that choice). Once upon a time, a QB from Cal entered the draft with questions about his mechanics too. That QB just won the Super Bowl and was named the game's MVP.
People have also qualified McElroy's success by saying that he was blessed with a disproportionately strong supporting cast throughout high school and college. While having weapons like Mark Ingram (a Heisman winner) and Julio Jones certainly did not hurt him, it is difficult to know for sure how much this truly skewed McElroy's résumé. If nothing else, he deserves credit for finding ways to make the most out of these advantages, despite his supposedly significant short-comings in his delivery delivery.
McElroy is not expected to go higher than the fifth round, making him an excellent option for the 49ers. If Harbaugh and his offensive staff can correct his throwing motion, he could be ready to start as early as his second or third season. Targeting McElroy would not only allow the 49ers to fill deep holes in the secondary and push rush with their early picks, but would also allow them added flexibility in solving the short-term QB puzzle (though I will not go so far as to say he would allow them to get by with keeping Alex Smith around).
Remember when I said you could not do much better than Greg McElroy when it came to track record? Well if anyone in the 2011 draft class can claim superiority in that respect, that man is TCU's Andy Dalton. Dalton started four years at TCU after redshirting as a true freshman, leading TCU to an eye-popping 44-8 record in that time.
Make no mistake, Dalton is far from perfect, but he could well be the best option for the 49ers.
Dalton has the size, strength, accuracy and pedigree to be a star at the NFL level. At 6'-3" and 220 lb, he has plenty of size to be a durable and effective signal caller and his stats at TCU prove his potential. Beyond just wins and losses, Dalton never failed to throw for fewer than 2,200 yards or 10 touchdowns in any of his four seasons, and his 71-31 touchdown-to-interception ratio is impressive.
Dalton has plenty of arm strength to make every NFL throw and has shown decent footwork and accuracy throughout his career, posting a 61.7 percent completion ratio. His 52 college starts are unmatched among QBs on the list, and his poise and polish have been recognized by numerous accolades.
Unlike Kaepernick, who was unable to break onto the first-team All-WAC team, Dalton not only earned multiple first-team All-Mountain West honors, but was named Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Year twice in a conference that includes teams like Utah and BYU. While he lacks the mobility of Kaepernick and Taylor, he still managed to gain over 1,500 yards on the ground over his career and tally 22 rushing touchdowns.
Perhaps most importantly, Dalton seems to shine brightest in the biggest games, earning MVP honors in three of four bowl appearances from 2007-2010. In all, he went 3-1 in bowls, with a 1-1 record in BCS games, winning the 2010 Rose Bowl.
Dalton does have some questions surrounding him, like any other QB on the list.
While the system he played in at TCU was more sophisticated than the gimmicky Pistol Offense that Kaepernick starred in at Nevada, it was still far from anything that could be considered a “pro-style” offense. Dalton’s ability to transition to an NFL caliber system has been called into question as a result. His favorable statistics must be qualified by the fact that he played in such a QB-friendly spread offense. He will need to learn to read NFL defenses and work through more complicated progression in the passing game.
Many also questioned Dalton’s ability to take snaps from under center—like several others on the list—but he went far toward calm those worries during the week of practice at the Senior Bowl, showing a consistent ability to drop back smoothly and work through progressions.
Dalton was rarely asked to throw down the field at TCU, though he had substantial experience with screens and timing routes that are integral to a West Coast Offense. As a result, his accuracy can wane when trying to throw the deep ball.
Dalton has some significant questions, but his work in the Senior Bowl has gone far toward answering some of his critics. He has a wealth of experience starting at the college level and was the only QB in the draft to start four bowl games. Dalton could go as high as the third round in the draft, which would be a fair spot to take a chance on a player with such an upside.
If Dalton is available to the 49ers in the third, they should strongly consider taking him.
The 49ers are faced with a critical juncture in the history of their storied franchise as they approach the 2011 NFL Draft.
New head coach Jim Harbaugh has generated a buzz around the 49ers which the team has not enjoyed in some time. How he handles the 2011 offseason, will go far in shaping his ultimate legacy.
QB is one of the biggest questions surrounding the team as they head into their next season of play—and the looming labor unrest has created significant questions as to what that season will look like or even when it will be. The 49ers cannot afford a repeat of the mistake made in 2005, lending even greater importance to the approach the new administration takes in finding a viable QB solution in the draft.
This list has presented the pros and cons surrounding 12 possible candidates to one day assume the reins of the 49ers offense. None are perfect, but most if not all could feasibly work. All we have to do now is reassess the whole list after the results of the NFL Combine come out...
Stay tuned and Keep the Faith!