The most important position in all of sports is quarterback. If an NFL team has a strong player at this position, they usually enjoy great success. The Oakland Raiders toiled through a decade of losing because of weak quarterback play. Once Derek Carr was drafted, they ascended to one of the best teams in the NFL. When the San Francisco 49ers enjoyed the most success, they were led by excellent quarterbacks in Joe Montana and Steve Young. The 49ers have fallen a long way since then, suffering due to poor quarterback play. The 2017 49ers have cornered the market on stopgap quarterbacks. But 2018 will be the year the 49ers find their quarterback of the future.
San Francisco 49ers Quarterback: Why There’s Hope in 2018
The current 49ers depth chart at quarterback leaves a lot to be desired. Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley are journeymen at best. C.J. Beathard was projected by many to be nothing more than a backup. It is unlikely that head coach Kyle Shanahan views any of these players as the starter of the future, but it is a thought worth entertaining.
Hoyer enjoyed his best year with the Cleveland Browns when Shanahan was his offensive coordinator. Hoyer is an intelligent quarterback. He is accurate in the short to intermediate area despite lacking top end arm strength, and athletic enough to run the boot option. Despite these tools, there is a reason the 49ers were able to sign him relatively cheap this off-season. He hasn’t had a ton of success since entering the league. The 31-year-old’s best bet for sustained success is predicated on Shanahan elevating him to a higher level of play.
Matt Barkley is a carbon copy of Hoyer, but five years younger. Despite excelling in college and garnering top pick consideration, Barkley has served most of his career as a backup. Possessing similar tools to Hoyer, Barkley’s key to success is exactly the same: hope for Shanahan to elevate him. Barkley has a greater shot than Hoyer to be the quarterback of the future, however, due simply to being younger with more time to absorb Shanahan’s system. Both of these quarterbacks seem destined to just hold down the position until the 49ers obtain a better option.
The last quarterback on the roster is the most intriguing. Not surprisingly, C.J. Beathard possesses similar tools and traits to Hoyer and Barkley. Taken in the third round out of Iowa, Beathard is a developmental project. Beathard by far offers the highest upside out of all the quarterbacks on the roster because he is young and unproven, and is the prospect Shanahan handpicked. Shanahan will work with him, and he may one day take the reins. Only time will tell with Beathard. While the 49ers will be patient with their project, his presence will not deter them from addressing the position in other ways.
Free Agent Quarterbacks
It is rare in the NFL that a quarterback in his prime is linked to other teams. However, Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo’s names swirled last off-season in trade rumors. It should come as no surprise that both players were linked to the 49ers. Barring extensions or use of the franchise tag, both of these quarterbacks will be available next off-season for the 49ers to sign.
Kirk Cousins was most heavily linked to the 49ers. He had a great working relationship with Shanahan when he was the offensive coordinator in Washington. Cousins also has put up monster stats over the past several years, nearly becoming the sixth quarterback ever to throw for 5,000 yards in an NFL season. Washington, so far, is unwilling to give him a long term contract, opening the door for a move to the 49ers. Cousins will be 29 years old when he is a free agent next year, and a move to the 49ers could elongate his prime.
The other name linked to the 49ers was Jimmy Garoppolo of the Patriots. Garoppolo has little game tape, but scouts and coaches rave about him. Garoppolo is three years younger than Cousins, but certainly less proven. Shanahan has stated that he had a high draft grade on Garoppolo, so a move for him is logical. History, however, would suggest that Garoppolo might be a product of the New England system. Former New England quarterbacks such as Ryan Mallett, Brian Hoyer, and Matt Cassel have found little success outside of New England, and what success they did find was short lived. Both of these quarterbacks would cost top dollar. If either becomes the signal caller for the 49ers in 2018 and leads the team to success, the price will definitely be worth it.
2018 NFL Draft Prospects
Unlike in 2017, the 2018 NFL Draft boasts a strong quarterback class. Unless Shanahan works a miracle, the 49ers will have another high draft choice in the first round. Trades with the Saints and the Bears have netted the 49ers an extra second and third round pick. This provides extra draft capital should they need to move up further. There are three quarterback prospects that could be worth such a high selection.
Josh Allen from Wyoming may have been the first quarterback taken had he entered the 2017 draft. Instead, Allen decided to return for his red-shirt junior year. Allen possesses above average athleticism, and a rocket for an arm. Wyoming also runs a pro-style offense, which is the type of system Shanahan likes his quarterbacks to have run. The biggest knock against Allen is the level of competition. Wyoming is a small school, but a strong start to Carson Wentz’s career with the Philadelphia Eagles after playing at similarly small North Dakota State is a positive example for Allen. While Allen’s arm may be the strongest in the draft, his accuracy is not ideal, completing only 56% of passes in 2017. His reliance on scrambling as well could force the 49ers to look to the other quarterback prospects.
Sam Darnold appears to be the next in a long line of quarterbacks taken high out of USC. The red-shirt sophomore catapulted himself into top pick consideration after starting the year as the backup. After he took the starting job, he led the Trojans to a 9-1 record, capped with a sublime performance in the Rose Bowl. Darnold has a strong, accurate arm despite a long release. USC does not run a pro-style offense, but Darnold appears to have the football I.Q. and attitude to adjust. Darnold also creates plays by scrambling out of the pocket. While this could be viewed as a positive, Shanahan will probably prefer a quarterback who stays in the pocket and runs his offense to the fullest. 2018 will be the year where Darnold cements his status as a top pick, or proves his 2017 success was a flash in the pan.
The most polarizing of the top quarterbacks is Josh Rosen from UCLA. On the field, the true-junior checks all the boxes. Off the field concerns, however, could lower his draft stock. Surgeries on his throwing shoulder, as well as reports about his character, are major red flags. If Shanahan can look past those, then there is no doubt that Rosen is the best fit as the future signal caller of the 49ers. His ability to read coverage, and then break it down with his strong and accurate arm from the pocket makes him the perfect fit. Rosen is the most likely of the prospects to become a star in Shanahan’s offense.
2017 will be another rebuilding year for the 49ers. It will also be a wait and see year. The 49ers will have a year of camp, practice, and games to determine what they have in their current quarterbacks. If one takes an unforeseen step, the solution to their quarterback woes has a built in remedy. They will also have a year to decide if they want to make a big financial investment in Kirk Cousins or Jimmy Garoppolo, should they be available. Lastly, they get at least one more year of tape on the top collegiate quarterbacks. One of these quarterbacks will impact the course of the franchise for years to come. One can only hope it’s the sort of impact Joe Montana and Steve Young had when they led the 49ers to Super Bowl victories.