In Mike Nolan’s tenure as head coach of the 49ers he has had two draft picks in the top ten. Both of the draft picks, Alex Smith (#1, 2005) and Vernon Davis (#6, 2006), are at defining moments in their respective careers this year.
Smith is facing heavy competition at QB from Shaun Hill who won the two games he started last year. The 49ers (dis)organization is holding onto its last hopes of Smith becoming the franchise quarterback they envisioned when they made him the number one pick. Smith has endured a lot as pro, four different offensive coordinators in four years, numerous injuries, and communication problems with Nolan. But we have seen enough of Alex Smith to know he will not develop into a franchise quarterback but more of a “descent quarterback” who can lead you to the playoffs (think Jeff Garcia) but won’t win you any championships. Smith will need career highs in every offensive category this year to even move up from the current label of a “bust” to being a “descent quarterback”. Patience is wearing thin with the 49er Faithful and Smith needs to show improvement in some way.
Davis is at a defining moment yet a completely different one from what Smith will experience this year. He is at a point where he becomes either a superstar with great receiving numbers or a bust with more muscle mass than receiving yards. He is entering his third year as a pro and injuries and a non-existent offense has stalled his progress. However he has all the makings to be a consistent playmaker like an Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez. But he has to improve on his numbers from the last two seasons. His career numbers line, 72 receptions, 774 receiving yards and 7 TD’s look more like a single season for a successful TE. He is the only actual receiving threat the 49ers have and with injuries aside Davis is poised for a breakout season. He will have no excuses because if Smith fizzles out as the starter than Shaun Hill will come in and he has proven he can run the offense successfully.
So goes Smith, goes Nolan and Davis
If Smith is healthy and ineffective he loses his job and the right to be the assumed starting QB. If another season of injuries is all the news about Smith than he loses his job. Either of these outcomes will mean Nolan gets fired and the 49ers will have the most expensive back-up as the (dis)organization moves on from the failed Nolan/Smith era. Davis falls into this because if Smith and Nolan do not exceed than he goes nowhere as well. He would most likely get traded as the 49ers prepare for another year of rebuilding minus all of Nolan’s drafting miscues.