2011 NFL Draft: 49ers' QB Search Packs a Punch

Joseph BurkeyAnalyst IApril 14, 2011

2011 NFL Draft: 49ers' QB Search Packs a Punch

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    What does Wladimir Klitschko have to do with the 49ers drafting a quarterback? Nothing. Seriously.

    Well, almost nothing.

    When Bill Walsh was a Bay Area coaching icon, he often made comparisons between the two great—and beautifully brutal—sports of football and boxing. "Beat 'em to the punch" is the saying most familiar to 49ers fans, but the analogies also run deeper.

    Today the 49ers are seeking their next franchise passer (again) and in remembering the Genius' comparisons to gloved gladiators, there are certain qualities to which a good quarterback can conform.

    Here's the rubric from which to look at the most notable quarterbacks in the 2011 draft...with a boxing twist.

    Footwork—Ali shuffle v.s Icky shuffle 

    Walsh was often enamored by Joe Namath's footwork. He noted that solid drop-backs and improvisational scurrying helped a passer buy time, as well as set properly for accurate throws. The footwork of Joe Montana was fluid, smooth and mighty quick as well. Steve Young had ridiculously quick feet and his southpaw style threw many defenses off balance and made them look sloppy.

    But today, so many college quarterbacks have been running spread offenses that much of their footwork is not on display in the same manner as it used to be.

    Height and Reach—What's the matter? Can't reach from down there?

    Boxers can thrive on reach advantages. Keeping foes at a distance where they can't hit you (but you can hit them) makes for a hell of a defense. Quarterbacking doesn't necessarily take a long reach, but extra height can sure be helpful behind an NFL line.

    Hand speed—Sting like a bee.

    Not quite the same as in boxing, but a quarterback needs to get the ball out fast, much like a boxer needs to snap his punches out with urgency.

    Toughness—Pain and suffering don't end the world.

    The brutal sports imply a certain amount of unavoidable pain. Getting hit is an unavoidable fact. Getting knocked down is common and likely. How well can an athlete suck it up and get back up?

    Balance and accuracy—Form is function; in placement, power.

    The two go hand in hand. Accuracy is very important. Just as wayward punches waste energy over a fight, botched passes waste downs. Even worse, a sloppy punch can set up a knock out and a sloppy pass can become a pick-six.

    Improvisational ability—Okay, let's try something else.

    There's a time in contact sports when athletes need to dig deep. Beyond that, there are countless instances when the plan that looked so good in practice and training simply doesn't work in the ring or on the field.

    Big Hands/keep your guards up—Protect yourself, and the ball, at all times.

    Big mitts block and parry better. They also hold on to the ball better.

    Record—Winners and losers (and against whom?)

    Quarterback is the only playing position in football where a record is attached to a single player. You won't hear about Patrick Willis' record, but you know Alex Smith's.

    Conditioning—Finely tuned athletic machines.

    These gladiators need to be in tip-top shape to survive 12 rounds, or four quarters—whichever comes first.

    Desire, and love of the game—The spark in the eye.

    The one who loves it more, wants it more, and gets it more.

Cam Newton

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    Cam Newton is the guy you'd figure would knock all the others out in a boxing match. He's "weapons-grade plutonium," if you ask Jim Harbaugh.

    No one looke more like a heavyweight champ than Cam Newton.

    Footwork—B+

    If he'd taken snaps from under center, he'd have a solid A, possible A+.

    Height and reach—A

    At 6'5", there's nothing not to like here.

    Hand speed—B

    Gets the ball out pretty well, but it's an area where he can certainly get better.

    Toughness—A

    Gritty style of play, and he never gives up. Ever.

    Balance and accuracyB

    Tends to rely on arm strength and throws off his back foot sometimes.

    Improvisational abilityA

    How ever many come-from-behind victories that was last year, I lost count.

    Big Hands/keep your guards upB

    Good hands, could hold the ball a little higher. Drops it down and often holds with one hand when scrambling.

    Record—A

    Perfect last year against SEC juggernauts, but that was one year.

    ConditioningA+

    Just look at him.

    Desire, and love of the gameB

    Seems a little smug in being an "icon." But that's swagger for you.

Blaine Gabbert

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    Is Blaine Gabbert a wimp? Not exactly; he's played against some pretty tough Big 12 teams. He looks the part of a pretty boy, but his upside is tremendous. The right trainer could make Gabbert a contender, and Gabbert could make the right team a contender.

    Footwork—B

    Gabbert is also hurt by playing in the spread, and although he is quick, he doesn't quite have the moves and wheels of a "very mobile" QB.

    Height and reach—A-

    6'4" is nothing to scoff at.

    Hand speed—B+

    Pretty nice, timely release.

    Toughness—B

    Has shown good durability and relentlessness, even in a couple tough losses. An admirable good sport.

    Balance and accuracyA

    Plants feet nicely when throwing, which results in pinpoint passing.

    Improvisational abilityB

    Capable of getting the sticks moved, one way or another.

    Big Hands/keep your guards upA-

    Just a small detail here; he could hold on a little tighter when getting tackled.

    Record—B+

    Fared pretty darn well against relatively tough Big 12 competition in 2010, but couldn't get Missouri over the hump.

    ConditioningB+

    Only a little work to do here. And with Gabbert's ethic, it will get done.

    Desire, and love of the sportB+

    Seems to be having a good time, but it seems like he is leaving school a year early for an NFL paycheck.

Christian Ponder

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    Ponder is one interesting athlete. Quick, gutsy, accurate and smart, he has very nice potential. And he may be the closest thing to an NFL ready quarterback.

    Footwork—A-

    Played in a pro-style offense and has very nice foot speed.

    Height and reach—B

    6'3" is just fine.

    Hand speed—B+

    Hits underneath routes nicely with a healthy amount of zip and only a little windup.

    Toughness—B-

    Not afraid to sacrifice himself to get to the sticks or end zone, but durability questions linger.

    Balance and accuracyB+

    Very good at leading receivers, but occasionally throws from his back foot.

    Improvisational abilityA-

    Can short-scramble, pump-fake and throw on the run if necessary. There's a lot of ways he can go with it, but he needs to put it all together at some point.

    Big Hands/keep your guards upA+

    Big mitts for his size, and holds the ball nice and high where he can see it.

    Record—B-

    Came close, but didn't win the ACC.

    ConditioningB+

    Keeps in very good shape.

    Desire, and love of the sportB+

    He sure looks like he's having a lot of fun out there, injuries and all.

Ryan Mallett

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    Mallett is different. Big Tex doesn't fit in the ring. His length is long enough that he could jab between rounds. But his weaknesses may be exploitable in spit of his strengths.

    Footwork—C+

    Looks painfully slow but can be deceptively fast due to his giraffe legs. However, his clown shoes could make an easy target for a downed defender trying to foot-tackle him.

    Height and reach—A+

    At basically 6'7", he holds the ball where DB's will more or less need to jump to reach it. He can see over just about any lineman and should be able to throw over defenders raising their hands, which translates to fewer batted balls...theoretically.

    Hand speed—B-

    CBS Sports said it best that "Though his long arm makes for an awkward-looking windup, Mallett possesses a fluid, over-the-top release that generates momentum, resulting in the ball exploding out of his hand."

    Toughness—B-

    No injuries to speak of really, but some question how he'll react when the inevitable pain catches up with him.

    Balance and accuracyA.

    Controls the ball through a smooth shoulder motion, even when his clown feet are moving. Hits deep, medium and short routes, and hits his receivers in stride. Typically throws off his front foot to hit.

    Improvisational ability—C-

    There's only so much a fellow shaped like this can do. Needs an arsenal of sure-handed talent, as he throws HARD. Escaping blitzes is not his forte.

    Big Hands/keep your guards upA+

    Biggest hands in the draft, he keeps both of them on the ball, and keeps the ball up in his neck.

    Record—B+

    Better in 2010 than 2009 against tough SEC competition. Only losses in 2010 were to powerhouses Alabama and Auburn. Played well but lost in the Sugar Bowl to Ohio State.

    ConditioningD+

    Doesn't exactly look the part of a pro athlete and pro-day numbers reaffirm this.

    Desire, and love of the sportB-

    The leadership role a quarterback is expected to have seems to escape him a little, as he was never voted team captain. He only played there two years however, after transferring from Michigan, which he fled in order to avoid a spread option offense, knowing well it was not the type of football he's meant for.

    There's not a riskier quarterback than Mallett, but his upside is impressive, too.

Jake Locker

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    A conundrum of inconsistency. Locker was supposed to be drafted above Sam Bradford last year. But his stock has dropped so far that many question whether Locker can even stay in the first round.

    While his wheels are indisputable, his arm has come under the microscope recently.

    He's gone from boxer to brawler, but could that be a good thing?

    Footwork—A

    Locker flashes tremendous foot speed, played in a pro-style system and changes directions like a freaking jackrabbit.

    Height and reach—B

    6'3" ain't bad.

    Hand speed—B

    Gets the ball out pretty well, but flinches if a hit is eminent.

    Toughness—B+

    Plays gritty, but has been know to take an injury or two.

    Balance and accuracyC

    It's hard to place exactly what's messing up Locker's accuracy, but it seems like his dipping and ducking tends to throw him off.

    Improvisational abilityB

    Although he can run very, very well, the instinct dies a little to hard on this one. It's almost like he's thinking about running while he's still reading the defense.

    Big Hands/keep your guards upB+

    Locker tends to tuck the ball securely to run, but there is a moment here and there where he gets careless, often with pump fakes.

    Record—C+

    2010 was better and Washington didn't give him a lot to work with, but results kind of outweigh excuses.

    ConditioningA-

    Look at him.

    Desire, and love of the sportA

    The paycheck Locker missed last year could buy a lot of cheese burgers. I don't think I would have been able to pass that up. Seriously though, the kid returned for his senior season to try to win a bowl game with Washington. Mission accomplished.

Colin Kaepernick

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    Colin Kaepernick is, well, interesting. Everything, from the pistol offense to the smallish hands, show red flags. But all his other physical assets, work ethic and winning attitude make him a fierce opponent you might not want to toy with.

    Footwork—B

    Coming from Chris Ault's pistol offense doesn't help a quarterback look like the guy who will transition well. Kaepernick has, however, worked extensively on his drop-backs since the Holiday Bowl.

    Height and reach—A-

    He seems taller than 6'4", but apparently that's what he is.

    Hand speed—B+

    Actually a really nice, quick delivery.

    Toughness—B+

    Pretty fearless on the field, but not stupid about it.

    Balance and accuracyB+

    Of course it would have been nice to see more of it (and less running), Kaepernick's passes seldom missed their marks.

    Improvisational abilityA-

    The pistol is kind of based on this sort of thing, but planning to improvise isn't really the same as digging your way out of a hole when your shovel breaks. The Boise State game, however, was one of those holes, and Nevada did dig themselves out with Kaepernick's help.

    Big Hands/keep your guards upD+

    His hands are actually smaller than Alex Smith's, and he holds the ball a little low. Sorry.

    Record—B+

    2010 was a fantasy year for Kaepernick and Nevada, as he led the Wolfpack to a WAC title and Bowl Victory while breathing fresh life back into the division the year the Broncos are leaving. Then again, it is the WAC.

    ConditioningA

    Very trim, yet he's been putting on lean mass since the Holiday Bowl.

    Desire, and love of the sportA-

    The kid just looks like he's having fun flying around out there.

Andy Dalton

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    This guy is a competitor, through and through. He'll take a punch and give one right back. Knock him down and he'll get right back up. Give him enough time and he'll take your belt.

    Footwork—B-

    Another classic case of took too many shotgun snaps.

    Height and reach—B

    Not amazing at 6'2", but totally adequate.

    Hand speed—B

    Reasonably quick, but not phenomenal.

    Toughness—A-

    Played a rather physical and gutsy game and was seldom injured, regardless.

    Balance and accuracyB+

    Very strait and deliberate in his movements.

    Improvisational abilityB

    Didn't often need to, so it's hard to say whether Mr. Dalton has any tricks up his sleeve.

    Big Hands/keep your guards upB+

    Quite standard, just short of great.

    Record—A

    The Horned Frogs all time win leader. Dalton would have an A++ if his record in bowl games was only a thin slice better. Also, the Mountain West is not the SEC.

    ConditioningB

    Not bad, but others on the list make this relative.

    Desire, and love of the sportB+

    He's a good kid and a heck of a field general. Nobody goes undefeated and doesn't enjoy it.

Ricky Stanzi

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    "Balanced" would describe Ricky Stanzi. He's not deficient in any area, really, but could improve in all areas. If anybody could benefit from hitting the speed bag, it's Stanzi.

    Footwork—B

    Since Stanzi comes from a pro-style offense, he does most everything right. But he needs to do it faster.

    Height and reach—A-

    6'4" is just fine.

    Hand speed—B-

    Again, a little slow, and in this category that hurts.

    Toughness—B+

    Missed a couple games with injury, and his team suffered in his absence.

    Balance and accuracy—B+

    Actually, very nice and fairly fluid. Hits his guys where only they can get it.

    Improvisational ability—B-

    Not a full bag of tricks, but he's got a couple.

    Big Hands/keep your guards up—B-

    He's going to want to protect it a little better.

    Record—B+

    Iowa couldn't win without him, found it hard to lose with him.

    Conditioning—B

    Speed, speed and speed (are his needs.)

    Desire, and love of the sport—B+

    Loves America and says it all the time. I assume that means he loves football.

Pat Devlin

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    In boxing circles, they'll look at an up-and-coming prospect and say "but who has he fought?" In Delvin's case, it's "but who has he played against?" And the answer is: nobodies.

    Of course that fighter will often go on to knock out several favored opponents. Such will be Delvin's charge.

    Footwork—C+

    Static-footed and a shotgun kid like so many others. Moves well and throws on the run when forced, though.

    Height and reach—A-

    6'4" is just swell.

    Hand speed—A

    Upon further review, Dalton's delivery is very fast and very smooth.

    Toughness and courage—B-

    Untested. Played against marginal competition at best.

    Balance and accuracy—A

    Leads receivers extremely well, puts the ball right where he wants it. Devlin made Delaware's receiving corp look impressive.

    Improvisational ability—B

    Not that creative.

    Big Hands/keep your guards up—B+

    Holds the ball nice and high and the swift delivery makes it largely unavailable to pass rushers hands.

    Record—B-

    Who did Delaware play? Oh yeah, nobody.

    Conditioning—B

    Looks the part of a quarterback. Certainly physically capable.

    Desire, and love of the sport—B

    Exactly why he never sought transfer to a top school is a little bit of a mystery. One rumor also circulated that Devlin was hungover at Delaware's pro day. But did anyone even show up to that?

Greg McElroy

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    The "Wonder-boy" is an under-the-radar prospect with a brain in his skull and a chip on his shoulder. Championships are what he eats for breakfast. And he's a professional about it.

    Footwork—B

    Took snaps from shotgun and under center. Never amazing mobility, but effective.

    Height and reach—B-

    6'1" is a little short for the position.

    Hand speed—B

    Throwing motion is par for the course with some room to improve.

    Toughness—B+

    Getting floored by SEC competition isn't fun, but McElroy always got back up.

    Balance and accuracy—B+

    Had a lot of weapons surrounding him at Alabama, but he did make the most of it.

    Improvisational ability—B

    The need didn't arise as often, given Alabama's strength as a team. But McElroy's top Wonderlic score suggests he'll think of something when the time comes.

    Big Hands/keep your guards up—B+

    Was allowed a lot of time by Alabama's line and run game. Protected the ball very well when contact was certain, though.

    Record—A

    National championships in high school and college. Admirable performances throughout his SEC time. My hat is off.

    Conditioning—B

    Well, you've got to be a Cam Newton to get an A here.

    Desire, and love of the sport—A-

    Loves the sport, loves winning and it shows.

Tyrod Taylor

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    Floyd Mayweather can knock you out, but that doesn't mean he will. He'll make you chase him for 10 rounds, then knock you into the turnbuckle. Such is the quarterbacking of Tyrod Taylor.

    Footwork—A+

    Almost didn't get the plus because of a few too many shotgun snaps.

    Height and reach—C

    Rather short for a QB.

    Hand speed—B-

    Gets the ball out, not always on time, though. And that includes the time he buys with his feet.

    Toughness—B+

    For a little guy, he takes contact like a champ.

    Balance and accuracyB

    Anyone who can stop on a dime, spin and throw a laser strike to the end zone must have some balance. But can he do it standing still?

    Improvisational ability—A-

    Too many weapons to fully account for him completely.

    Big Hands/keep your guards upC+

    Squirrelly scrambler protects the ball by not letting defenders near him. But the ball is out there just waiting to get stripped.

    Record—B-

    Did well with the Hokies, but big games were about 50-50.

    Conditioning—A

    He'll keep that speed, thank you.

    Desire, and love of the sport—B+

    Loves the game, respects the game and isn't cocky in spite of his elusive talents.

Scott Tolzein

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Accuracy and efficiency.

    Footwork—B

    Pro-style quarterback, but no speed to his gallop.

    Height and Reach—B

    6'3" is quite standard.

    Hand speed—B+

    Gets the ball out, but doesn't quite let it fly with the necessary controlled abandon to be feared.

    Toughness—B

    Had a strong running game and a solid line to hide behind, but was never afraid of any defenses.

    Balance and accuracyA-

    Tolzien was only the most accurate passer in the country. That's all. Sets his feet nicely just about every time he throws it.

    Improvisational abilityC

    Not to much going on here. Doesn't have the arm strength to launch it or the speed to take off with it. No real moves, so defenses that aren't fooled by play action can see him as a tender cut of meat.

    Big Hands/keep your guards upB

    Risky looking delivery, but he holds onto it until launch.

    Record—B

    Tough Big 10 opponents, and almost a Rose Bowl victory, but no dice.

    ConditioningB-

    Just doesn't seem to have the shape to last a whole game at NFL speed.

    Desire, and love of the sportB+

    Is a true team player and he likes it that way.

So...

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    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Obviously this investigation tells us little more than we already knew, but it made me realize that Cam Newton is dangerous.

    If this was a fight, none of the other contenders would hold a candle to him. He's got knockout power, mobility, height, reach and the title belt.

    To go with this, he's raw, and can certainly improve in the areas of footwork, balance and his release. A deeper understanding of reading defenses is also going to be essential, and that will take some time. But he's the Mohammad Ali of the bunch.

    Pat Devlin impressed too, and although he's been dealing with low-division opponents, the quickness of his release looks like it could translate if he gets other aspects of the game down.

    Ryan Mallett needs to hit the gym yesterday.

    Gregg McElroy has the intelligence of a Lennox Lewis, and uses it to hunt championship titles.

    Ricky Stanzi needs to get faster.

    Jake Locker needs to relax and stop fidgeting.

    Colin Kaepernick is working real hard, getting into fighting shape (or is it football shape? Yeah, that's it) and could very well succeed over time, but should probably consider a glove for grip. Actually, there were games at Nevada I thought he did wear one.

    Scott Tolzien might not want to go 12 rounds in the ring, but could probably do it with the right guys in his corner. He should probably pick his opponents and not the other way around.

    Blaine Gabbert and Andy Dalton need to show they can float like butterflies; we know they can sting like bees.

    Tyrod Taylor may be out of his weight class, but chase him around the ring for 10 rounds and he might nail you in the 11th.

    And Christian Ponder looks like a fighter—a fighter who could knock you out with a jab!

    In the end, football is a team sport, and a quarterback isn't going to be punching anybody in the face. At least I don't think these guys are.

    And in the end, the 49ers will be asking: Are they looking for a heavyweight champ who can go 12 rounds with knockout power? Are they looking for a lighter, more agile boxer who makes no mistakes and wears you down?

    Or are they looking for a franchise quarterback? Yup. I think that's the one.