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

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2011 NFL Draft: 49ers' QB Search Packs a Punch
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

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.

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