All indications are that GM Trent Baalke is going to bring in a quarterback in the early rounds of this year's draft. The lack of a free agency period as we approach the draft adds to the uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position.
Even though the 2011 quarterback class is not top heavy, there is a significant amount of depth. It seems at least a few quarterbacks projected to go in the second round will likely secure jobs as NFL starters one day.
The 49ers may or may not retain Alex Smith. They also may or may not be able to bring in a quarterback through trade or a delayed free agency period. With so many questions, Jim Harbaugh will likely seek to find as many answers as possible in his first ever NFL draft at the helm.
Blaine Gabbert gained a ton of momentum after the season ended, which is not necessarily a good thing. Quarterbacks are often graded on a curve, so the most highly touted QB in a class that doesn't feature a standout can jump into the No. 1 overall spot.
Gabbert is sound technically and blew up his pro day. When you look back at the film, he isn't nearly as impressive as he is against air. Even so, Gabbert will probably be gone when the 49ers draft at No. 7. There is too big of a need at QB amongst the teams at the top for Gabbert to slip past six.
If nobody takes a shot at him, don't be surprised to see Harbaugh take the bait.
Cam Newton can't stop making headlines, even when he is not the catalyst behind the story. Last week, Warren Moon said the critiques against Newton were racially based. That is neither here nor there in regards to the 49ers on draft day.
Harbaugh doesn't seem concerned with Newton's skin color. He even called him "plutonium grade raw material." Newton fits the West Coast Offense well. He has underrated accuracy and could develop into the best dual threat QB in the game.
There are some who believe Newton needs to fall into the right hands to succeed. What better hands to fall into than Harbaugh's? While most 49ers fans would probably vote to pass on any and all quarterbacks in the second round, seeing a guy with this sort of upside slide all the way to seven may be too good to pass up.
Let's get into the second-round choices, where I believe the 49ers are probably better suited to take a quarterback. They have 12 draft picks, so don't be surprised if they try to move up in the draft if they see the guy they want sitting there in the second round.
Christian Ponder has the mind to run the 49ers' offense of the future. He doesn't have a cannon, but his arm strength should not be a liability. He has proven to be a high percentage QB, but could develop into more than a prototypical game manager.
He has Cam Newton syndrome, in that he telegraphs his throws at times and fails to go through his progressions. Unfortunately for Ponder, he doesn't have the ability to run as well as Newton does.
Andy Dalton is a guy we could all look back and go, "How did everyone miss that guy?" He doesn't have the height or arm of Ryan Mallett or the physical talent of Cam Newton; however, those who watched TCU football know just how effective of a QB he is.
Dalton comes from a spread offense, which makes him hard to evaluate. What is evident though, he is a proven leader. Dalton went into a smaller school and quarterbacked them to four bowl games, the last of which they took out Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.
There are a lot of things not to like about Dalton when he works out in shorts and a t-shirt. The important thing for teams to do is to go back and look at the tape, particularly in the closing minutes of the game where everything is on the line.
Colin Kaepernick's biggest flaw is that he is going to have to adapt to an NFL system. He has the ability to run, has a cannon and ideal height. He is likable and coachable. While he isn't a prime candidate to land the starting role in SF his rookie year, he could develop into something special.
Harbaugh has an incredible ability to groom quarterbacks for the next level. If the 49ers plan on bringing in a veteran while their quarterback of the future develops, they could easily fall in love with Kaepernick as a potential project quarterback of the future.
Jake Locker is the definition of a polarizing prospect. Some experts grade him out as top 10 talent while others maintain that he is a third-round pick. Locker has serious accuracy issues, but has a lot of qualities teams admire in a quarterback.
He is mobile and has an above average arm. He has been well coached and seems to understand football better than most quarterback prospects coming out of this year's draft. There is a zero percent chance the 49ers use the seventh pick overall on Locker, but if he falls to the second round and the 49ers are in a position to draft him, it could be a possibility.
Ryan Mallett looks like a QB made in the create-a-player mode in Madden. He stands at nearly 6'7". He has a cannon for an arm and can bomb the ball better than any prospect this year. He will fit well in various NFL offenses, but doesn't appear to be a fit for the 49ers.
In the West Coast Offense, the quarterback does not need to have Michael Vick wheels to succeed. The ability to move is a borderline necessity though. It is going to be interesting to see where Mallett will go. If by some chance the 49ers are drafting in the third round and haven't selected a quarterback yet, and Mallett is on the board, selecting him may cross their minds.
Let's start with the positives. Tyrod Taylor can launch the ball, doesn't make very many mistakes and could be the most mobile quarterback in the draft.
On the flip side, he isn't very accurate, his release is a time consuming production and his internal clock takes too long to force the ball out of his hands.
The 49ers have a wealth of picks this year. They could wait to find a project quarterback who can compete in the third role or may do it this offseason. They will need to have two quarterbacks who can compete for the job under center. Preferably, the 49ers will sign a veteran, bring in a rookie in the early rounds as the third QB and retain Alex Smith as the second.
Scott Tolzien could enjoy a lucrative career as an NFL backup. He is concise with his throws and lethally accurate. He can move well and enjoyed a ridiculously high completion percentage in college. His deeper throws become less accurate and he doesn't have a cannon.
This makes him an ideal candidate for the backup quarterback position. If the 49ers plan on investing heavily in free agency or have already brought in a quarterback, don't write off the possibility of them bringing in another one in a late round.
Mitch Mustain is probably going to be a career backup at the next level. He has spent time being a "closer" for USC and seems comfortable in that role. He has character concerns that may drop him from being a late-round prospect all the way out of the draft.
If the 49ers choose not to retain Alex Smith, they are going to have a vacancy they need to fill. There are worse emergency quarterbacks in the NFL right now than Mustain. If nothing else, the 49ers could bring him in and allow him to compete for the third spot. With the 49th pick in the seventh round, they have nothing to lose.