NFC West: Brian Brohm
- Going from second to third on the depth chart would look like a regression for Kaepernick, but it might not mean much for the long term. Circumstances have changed. Alex Smith outperformed expectations last season, earning a new contract and tightening his grip on the starting position. The team signed Josh Johnson, Jim Harbaugh's former quarterback at the University of San Diego. Scott Tolzien, another passer the 49ers liked coming out of college, has gained some seasoning.
- Kaepernick was facing a significant transition from the system he ran in college. His development was going to take time. It'll be good for him to get extensive reps in the preseason, but Johnson will need playing time, too. The goal, of course, is to upgrade the quarterback position, not to make sure Kaepernick appears instantly worthy of the second-round choice San Francisco used to select him. As coach Jim Harbaugh said on the day the 49ers drafted Kaepernick: "We believe in competition. We believe in earning positions around here."
- The 49ers ideally would have found competition for Kaepernick last offseason. A lockout-shortened signing period complicated those efforts. That cleared the way for Kaepernick to land the No. 2 job unopposed. The 49ers got away with having an inexperienced backup when Smith started all 16 games, plus two playoff games, without encountering the injury problems that sidelined him in past seasons.
- There's no precedent for developing quarterbacks drafted in second rounds. Each situation has its own dynamics. A year ago, developing Kaepernick on a fast schedule seemed important. Those still skeptical of Smith might feel that way yet. But Johnson, with more experience than Kaepernick, might be better prepared to take over a playoff-caliber team on short notice should Smith struggle or suffer an injury. It's up to Kaepernick to prove otherwise.
As the chart shows, five of the nine second-round quarterbacks drafted from 2007 to 2011 were third-stringers or had been released heading into their second regular seasons. Chad Henne and Kevin Kolb were second string. Andy Dalton remains a starter heading into his second year. Brock Osweiler, a second-rounder in Denver this year, hasn't had a second season, obviously.
Teams tend to overvalue quarterbacks in the draft, which means the most promising ones rarely escape the first round. Teams tend to focus on other positions in the rounds immediately following the first round before "taking flyers" on the position later in the draft.
We see this when looking at the number of quarterbacks drafted by round since 2000. There have been 31 in the first round, 16 in the second, 17 in the third, 20 in the fourth, 24 in the fifth, 36 in the six and 32 in the seventh.
The chart, updated since it ran in February 2010, ranks second-round quarterbacks since 1995 by number of games played.
While we're on a hot streak, let's take a quick look at third-round quarterbacks drafted since 1995, arranged by team:
- Arizona: Stoney Case, Josh McCown
- Atlanta: Matt Schaub
- Baltimore: Chris Redman
- Buffalo: Trent Edwards
- Cleveland: Eric Zeier, Charlie Frye and Colt McCoy
- Denver: Brian Griese
- Houston: Dave Ragone
- Jacksonville: Jonathan Quinn
- Kansas City: Brodie Croyle
- New England: Kevin O'Connell
- Oakland: Andrew Walter
- Philadelphia: Bobby Hoying
- San Diego: Charlie Whitehurst
- San Francisco: Giovanni Carmazzi
- Seattle: Brock Huard, David Greene
- Tampa Bay: Chris Simms
Count Schaub and Whitehurst among those who were more valuable to their teams as trade bait than as quarterbacks.
Mike Sando: Thanks, Chris. This could be a rough offseason for signing or even acquiring quarterbacks from other teams.
One, the list of quarterbacks likely to hit the market is once against weak. Two, a lockout would prevent teams from trading for players -- even via draft-day trades involving picks. A lockout lasting past the draft would limit options further, in other words.
Peyton Manning and Michael Vick are scheduled to become free agents, but Manning is going nowhere, obviously, and the Eagles will presumably keep Vick, too. Brett Favre is retiring, it appears, so forget about him.
The next tier of quarterbacks with expiring contracts goes like this: Matt Hasselbeck, Kerry Collins, Chad Pennington and Bulger. These are older, likely declining players -- not necessarily guys to build around. Pennington's health is a major issue. Vince Young is available.
Several highly drafted, not-yet-old quarterbacks could hit the market, but none has met expectations. That list will feature Kyle Boller, Patrick Ramsey, Rex Grossman, J.P. Losman, Alex Smith and Matt Leinart. The Cardinals aren't bringing back Leinart, obviously, and the other guys on this list will not project as starters.
Tarvaris Jackson, Brodie Croyle and Matt Moore could be available, too.
Several career backups could become available: Todd Collins, Todd Bouman, Billy Volek, Bruce Gradkowski, Seneca Wallace, J.T. O'Sullivan, Chris Simms, Luke McCown, etc.
Still not sold?
The names get smaller from there. Brian St. Pierre, Jim Sorgi, Charlie Frye, Kellen Clemens, Drew Stanton, Troy Smith, Brian Brohm, Caleb Hanie, Jordan Palmer, Dennis Dixon ... we're not finding the Cardinals' next starter from that list, either.
Arizona should probably make a play for Bulger, consider drafting a quarterback and see how the trade market shakes out. The Cardinals have too many needs, in my view, to part with multiple picks of value for an unproven quarterback such as Kevin Kolb -- unless they're convinced that quarterback will become a very good player.
The exceptions: Lawrence Jackson, selected 28th overall by the Seattle Seahawks, and Kentwan Balmer, chosen one pick later by the San Francisco 49ers.
And with Glen Coffee retiring from the 49ers, San Francisco joined the New England Patriots as the only NFL teams to have parted with more than one player drafted among the first three rounds over the past two seasons.
That makes it easier to waive the usual disclaimers about waiting three or four years before assessing draft classes. We already know the 49ers and Seahawks will never realize a return on their 2008 first-round investments.
The first chart lists the nine draft choices from 2008 or 2009 who are no longer with their original teams (Brad Cottam, a third-round choice of the Kansas City Chiefs, landed on the reserve/physically unable to perform list after clearing waivers).
The second chart shows how many 2008 and 2009 draft choices selected in the first three rounds are no longer with their original teams.
Fourteen of the 37 quarterbacks drafted in that range since 1995 went first or third overall. None went in 15 of the 32 highest spots, including 13th through 16th or 27th through 31st.
"The interesting point on second-round QB picks will be who they were, how long until they were a starter (if ever) and if they stuck with their drafting team," Bcook122 wrote in response. "I'm hoping this year's crop may yield a good prospect without having to exact one of those two first-round picks the Niners have."
The first thing I did was break out all second-round quarterbacks selected in the last 30 drafts, figuring this would provide big-picture perspective. One of the quarterbacks in question, Drew Brees, appeared on the previous list because the Chargers selected him 32nd overall before the NFL expanded to 32 teams. Some of the best ones -- Boomer Esiason, Randall Cunningham and Neil Lomax -- were drafted between 1981 and 1984. Another, Brett Favre, went in 1991.
The next step involved narrowing the search range to all drafts since 1995.
NFL teams have drafted 17 second-round quarterbacks during that period, including Brees. The Dolphins (three) and Lions (two) drafted five of the 17, including four since 2007. Eight of the 17 were drafted since 2006. Three of the 17 have gone to Pro Bowls, but Brees is the only one with a career passer rating higher than 77.9.
The chart ranks these 17 quarterbacks by regular-season games played. Of course, the earlier a quarterback is drafted, the more chances an organization will generally give him.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Philip from Sunnyvale, Calif., writes: I've always been a 49er fan through the bad times of times of the 80's and early 90's to the bad times now. I'm giving you a comment more than a question. Do you think the 49ers brought in Mike Martz to replace Mike Nolan if the 49ers don't at least finish 8-8 this year? I think they did, and then will promote Mike Singletary to Defensive Coordinator. What are your thoughts on that?
Mike Sando: I don't think the 49ers made the Martz hire with that in mind. Mike Nolan appeared to be behind the hire more than management or ownership was behind the hire. Yes, Martz would be a logical candidate for the job if the 49ers decided to make a change, and Singletary's name has surfaced for jobs. Also, don't forget about defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. He appears to be a rising coach. I would expect his name to surface if the situation arose as you described.
It's awfully early to be discussing such things, but the 49ers did nearly make a change after last season. The pressure is definitely high in San Francisco. A fast start would help.