NFL Draft 2011: Can San Francisco 49ers Make Sense of a World Gone Crazy?

Patrick Goulding IIAnalyst IMarch 5, 2011

Many maintain that Alex Smith is the miracle cure for what ails the 49ers. We have all heard that story before.
Many maintain that Alex Smith is the miracle cure for what ails the 49ers. We have all heard that story before.

They say that in an insane world, the sane man will appear insane. To quote the Fabulous Thunderbirds, "The whole world's gone crazy, Think I've seen enough."

Reading through some recent buzz around the blogosphere and larger media world, I am beginning to suspect that the world of 49ers football truly has gone crazy. More and more, people seem to be buying into the idea that a drafting a QB early is the way the team needs to go.

My opposition to such a notion has been well-documented (Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C), and rest assured I have not warmed to the idea one measly degree.  The same cannot be said for most others counting themselves among the Faithful, however, even some who had seemingly been staunchly against the premise not long ago.

The growing wave of support likely stems from a number of aspects. New head coach Jim Harbaugh is seen as a QB guru and many are doubtless captivated by the romance of the idea of him grooming a big-name rookie into the face of the franchise. Part can be attributed to the lack of CBA resolution clouding the QB picture, and we can thank some on the flawed but common misconception that top team need should always equal top draft choice.

The 49ers reportedly met with Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick at the combine lending extra credence to the notion that the team is targeting a QB in the early rounds. The arrival of Jim Harbaugh has turned Alex Smith from pariah to potential savior overnight, and many fans (and even supposed experts) are convinced Alex Smith could lead the team successfully while mentoring a top rookie.

All this has conspired to create a growing fan sentiment that a top QB is not just the right choice, but may be the only choice.

Kaepernick's combine performance and his lack of off-field and character issues (somewhat of a rarity in this draft) have rocketed him up most draft boards and it would be surprising if he were not taken some time in the second round, making him a reach for the 49ers for various reasons I have long belabored before. Still, taking a second-round QB would not be the end of the world. The fairly regular suggestions of Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert are much more troubling.

The strong combine showings by defenders like Von Miller and Patrick Peterson has elevated the draft stock of these players (Peterson recently ascended to the top of Mel Kiper Jr.’s board), making it even less likely that the 49ers will have a chance to select one of them at No. 7. To some, this has created an even stronger justification for taking Gabbert or Newton.

The "logic" goes something like this: Patrick Peterson and Von Miller are climbing the big board meaning the 49ers will not be able to get either one of them. Meanwhile, that means teams at the top will have to pass on Newton and Gabbert, causing them to slip to the 49ers. Given the strong need at QB, and the lack of top defensive options, why not solve at least one problem?

Makes sense, right? Not really.

In actuality, there are probably at least nine players that make more sense for the 49ers to take at No. 7 than Newton or Gabbert—namely Patrick Peterson, Nick Fairley, Da'Quan Bowers, Von Miller, Robert Quinn, Prince Amukamara, Marcell Dareus, AJ Green, and Julio Jones. Advanced calculus tells us that at least three of these players will HAVE to still be available to the 49ers at No. 7.

Even if you discount the wide receivers as being a lower-priority and therefore not an option, there is still no mathematical chance that the six teams ahead of the 49ers take all seven of the defenders. But what if pro days cause a couple of these options to plummet and the top remaining defensive prospects are gone by No. 7? The 49ers would be stupid not to take Gabbert or Newton in that case, right?

Still no. There are still a variety of options in the event of this highly unlikely scenario that would make loads more sense than taking a QB. They could look at Green or Jones, but that probably would not be the best choice. The 49ers could anticipate the demand for Peterson and trade up to secure him. It would not be cheap to move up even a few spots and Peterson is still in the conversation for the No. 1 pick. Trading players might not be an option, but if Peterson falls to the No. 4 neighborhood, and the 49ers could work a deal for a package of mid-round picks split between this year and next, Peterson's potential would seem to justify that.

Another—perhaps even better—option would be to trade down for the best available deal. This could allow them to gain picks and possibly other incentives and wind up with the likes of Mike Pouncey, Akeem Ayers, Cameron Jordan, JJ Watt, Ras-I Dowling, or perhaps even a tandem of the above.

Even if every value defender is gone by the No. 7 pick, there are better options for the 49ers than taking a QB like Newton or Gabbert. Realize that if the CBA is resolved by the draft (suddenly much more possible in the light of today’s developments), the 49ers may need an early pick to land a veteran QB. If that happens, taking another QB in the first round would greatly hamper the team in other areas of need. Alex Smith is not the magic solution to that problem that many fans so desperately want him to be.

Harbaugh deserves the benefit of the doubt until he has an actual track record to evaluate, but that does not mean the fans and the team should hand him a blank check on blind faith. Blind faith is what dug the 49ers the hole they currently sit in, and the team does not need any more of it.

If Harbaugh chooses to take a QB at No. 7, he will be putting the team (and that QB) in a very difficult situation. The fact of the matter is that in no conceivable scenario is selecting a QB at No. 7 justified for this team. The only kind of faith the fans need have in Harbaugh is the faith that he will be smart enough to realize that, or that the six teams ahead of the 49ers will save him from the very opportunity for us to find out.

Keep the Faith! (Just not blind faith)