Sorting through the player’s 49ers general manager Trent Baalke and head coach Jim Harbaugh selected many of them appear to be projects. Even first round pick Aldon Smith is a project as he will make the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker. Smith should learn quickly and could contribute as a starter this season. The draft pick and project that intrigues me the most is Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Conventional wisdom says Kaepernick will take time to develop into a franchise quarterback because of some raw mechanics like his throwing release and him coming from a spread, shotgun offense in college football.
Good thing for Kaepernick is he has time to develop. Unlike Alex Smith, who was the last quarterback the 49ers selected in the first round, he won’t be thrown out onto the field on day one. He also will not have the weight of being the next Joe Montana or Steve Young on his shoulders. At least not yet.
Before Harbaugh was hired the 49ers front office apparently did not think much of Kaepernick. Their thinking was he was too raw and too much of a project. Enter Harbaugh. I am sure Harbaugh did some convincing to the front office and Baalke by saying no quarterback is too raw for me. With Harbaugh’s history of developing quarterbacks Baalke and company listened. After Kaepernick was drafted I read about the 49ers predraft workout day with Kaepernick which is where the convincing of Kaepernick’s ability reached its peak.
During a workout on March 18 Harbaugh challenged the quarterback to a passing competition that included an accuracy test involving goal posts and a perfect spiral contest. Harbaugh was impressed. On Kaepernick’s pro day he impressed Harbaugh and Baalke again with the way he reacted to various situations Harbaugh threw at him. Baalke said:
“Jim asked him to change a lot of things, his footwork, different things like that, just to see how he responded. He showed the ability to process everything and make those changes very quickly.”
Now the 49ers just needed to make sure Kaepernick was still available when the 49ers drafted in second round. To ensure they got their man the 49ers traded up sacrificing second, fourth and fifth round picks to the Broncos.
The draft showed for the first time Harbaugh’s value to the 49ers and the experience he brings when it comes to evaluating college players. Because of the lockout we have not been able to see anything that shows how valuable a coach Harbaugh can be. Now that we know how the workouts went and how Harbaugh conducted them. Do you think Mike Singletary would have asked the same questions as Harbaugh if he was still head coach? Or thrown the same situations at Kaepernick as Harbaugh? How about Mike Nolan? If you don’t ask the right questions or put the player through different situations how can you get a good read on a potential draft pick? Well, Nolan did interview Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and did not like the ‘attitude’ Rogers portrayed so he went with Alex Smith. I would take attitude any day of the week. I like to call it swagger.
My point here is the 49ers finally have a head coach that is not only offense minded but who can evaluate players beyond what is needed to find high value talent anywhere in the draft. Harbaugh has a project on his hand in Kaepernick but if you were to ask Rich Gannon, Josh Johnson or Andrew Luck if Harbaugh will be able to groom him into a franchise quarterback I bet they would say yes.