NFC West: Jamie Harper

David from San Jose, Calif., says the San Francisco 49ers should not open the 2011 season with Alex Smith and rookie Colin Kaepernick as their top two quarterbacks. He thinks the team needs to add another starting-caliber player -- Carson Palmer, Kevin Kolb or Donovan McNabb -- to avoid a repeat of the 2010 season.

Mike Sando: That sounds more realistic in theory than in reality. Among the considerations:
  • Smith arguably outperformed McNabb last season. Same number of touchdown passes. Five fewer interceptions. Both had losing records as starters (3-7 for Smith, 5-8 for McNabb). I would have added McNabb last offseason if I were the 49ers, but the urgency is gone. McNabb's stock has fallen. It's a tougher case to make right now. Smith has a head start on the playbook and will take direction from coach Jim Harbaugh. McNabb struggled adjusting to Mike Shanahan's offense, would be getting a late jump on the playbook and would arrive more set in his ways, and with the clock ticking.
  • Acquiring Kolb would likely require parting with one or more 2012 draft choices. That would make little sense given Kaepernick's status as the projected future starter.
  • Palmer lacks the mobility Harbaugh says he craves in a quarterback, and it's not yet clear whether Cincinnati will trade him. Palmer will expect to start for as long as he's with a team. The 49ers would not make him a long-term starter. The fit would not be right.
  • The 49ers' quarterback situation in 2010 suffered from the curious case of David Carr. The front office signed him, but coach Mike Singletary would not play him. That left the 49ers with the two Smiths, Alex and Troy. Troy Smith wasn't even with the team in training camp. The team fired its coordinator early in the season. Alex Smith got hurt. It's reasonable to expect the 49ers' current leadership to handle the quarterback situation better in 2011. Now, if injuries strike, all bets are off. But that is true for most teams.

Remember, too, that Harbaugh is entering his first season as head coach. The lockout is threatening to turn a transitional season into a lost one for teams with new coaches, new systems and new, unproven quarterbacks.

Harbaugh has identified his quarterback of the future -- Kaepernick. He has available to him a veteran, Smith, who is comfortable with the situation. I don't sense great urgency from the 49ers to invest significant resources in another veteran for just one season. We should instead expect the team to sign an undrafted free agent or two.

Ray from Corona, Calif., thinks the 49ers' draft-day decisions affected the Arizona Cardinals in ways that will play out in the NFC West for years to come. Ray thinks Arizona selected LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson fifth overall in part because the team didn't want the 49ers, picking seventh, to get him. He thinks Peterson would have fallen to San Francisco if Von Miller had been available to the Cardinals. He also thinks Arizona would have selected Kaepernick in the second round if the 49ers hadn't traded up to select Kaepernick instead.

Mike Sando: It's fun to consider the possibilities. Miller's selection at No. 2 made the Cardinals' decision on Peterson appear more straightforward. Had Miller been available to Arizona at No. 5, perhaps the Cardinals would have selected him. That would have left Peterson to the 49ers at No. 7, provided Julio Jones remained the choice at No. 6. But the Cardinals' excitement over what Peterson offers on defense and in the return game could have made him the choice, anyway.

The rest is more speculative, but still fun to consider.

Another what-if scenario came to mind recently when I was looking at players NFC West teams selected. The St. Louis Rams selected wide receiver Greg Salas with the 112th pick, three spots before San Francisco selected running back Kendall Hunter.

The Rams could have used a complimentary back for Steven Jackson, but ultimately they valued Salas more than they valued any of the running backs in that range.

Eastern Washington's Taiwan Jones was also available, as were Delone Carter, Bilal Powell, Jamie Harper, Johnny White and nine more running backs (excluding fullbacks) selected later in the draft.

Michael from Phoenix wonders what the Cardinals have planned for their offensive line following Alan Faneca's retirement. He sees the team's next quarterback struggling if Arizona doesn't address the line.

Mike Sando: Re-signing right guard Deuce Lutui and center Lyle Sendlein becomes more important. Veteran Rex Hadnot could play left guard. It's no secret Arizona has largely ignored its line in the draft. Free agency could provide options, but coach Ken Whisenhunt thought the line was generally good enough last season. The team had bigger problems.

Quarterbacks benefit from their lines, but lines also benefit from their quarterbacks. Kurt Warner could bail out an offensive line by anticipating routes and releasing the ball early. The Cardinals likely aren't going to find a quarterback as skilled in that regard. But with improvements on defense and at least decent play at quarterback, they can probably rely more heavily on a running game that now features Ryan Williams.

Around the NFC West: Debating Mallett

April, 14, 2011
Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle says debate is brewing over whether the Seahawks would have interest in Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett. Henderson: "On the same day Mike Lombardi of NFL Network said the Seahawks are considering taking Mallett in the first round, John Clayton told the Kevin Calabro show Wednesday that character concerns and Mallett's lack of mobility will likely be deal breakers for the Seahawks, even if the former Arkansas quarterback is still on the board when Seattle makes the 57th overall pick." Mallett's inability to move very well does seem like a significant factor working against him from the Seahawks' perspective. Coach Pete Carroll says he still values mobility in a quarterback. He did coach Carson Palmer at USC, however, and Palmer was never known for his wheels. I think there's some confusion over what Seattle wants in a quarterback because there's uncertainty over how much the offense will change with a new coordinator. Of course, if there's a franchise quarterback available in a draft, a team with a need at the position would presumably adapt its offense, at least to a degree.

Odeen Domingo of the Arizona Republic says Larry Fitzgerald's experience with batting practice before a Diamondbacks game made it clear Fitzgerald should stick to football. Fitzgerald: "I'm taking this thing off my list of the things that I was thinking about even trying to do if the [NFL] lockout goes up to the season. ... I struck out about seven, eight times out there. It was embarrassing. . . . This is definitely a gift I don't possess."

Mike Jurecki of XTRA910 radio in Phoenix passes along a video clip confirming Fitzgerald's evaluation as highly accurate. What a shock it must have been for someone as physically gifted as Fitzgerald to flail away helplessly against batting-practice pitches. Michael Jordan took criticism for struggling by professional standards during his baseball career, but Fitzgerald's experience makes Jordan look like a natural. As Fitzgerald noted, however, he hadn't swung a bat in several years.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch updates pre-draft visits to the Rams. Offensive lineman Daniel Kilgore was one of them.

Also from Thomas: Clemson's Jamie Harper was the latest running back to visit the Rams.

More from Thomas: a chat transcript in which he considers how Steven Jackson might react if the Rams selected a running back early in the draft. Thomas: "Jackson is a very proud man, and I think he takes great pride in being the workhorse in the backfield. I'm trying to recall now what Marshall Faulk's reaction was when Jackson was drafted, and I can't recall any strong reaction either way. But by the time Jackson was drafted, Faulk's knees had become an issue and I think Faulk realized he was on short time. I don't think Jackson feels that way at this point in his career."

More yet from Thomas: A fuller look at the Rams' potential interest in drafting a running back. Mark Ingram and Mikel Leshoure are the bigger-name backs to make pre-draft visits to Rams Park. Thomas writes: "What about the rest of the ball carriers who have made their way to Earth City this week: Alex Green of Hawaii, Jamie Harper of Clemson, Stevan Ridley of Louisiana State and Daniel Thomas of Kansas State? Interestingly, all are about the same size -- 5 feet 11 or 6-0 and all in the 225- to 235-pound range. All could be categorized as inside runners who lack breakaway speed. And all are being evaluated as possible backups to the Rams' reigning big back -- three-time Pro Bowler Steven Jackson."

Nick Wagoner of says the Rams need help at linebacker next to James Laurinaitis.

Matt Maiocco of says the 49ers are bringing in Marcell Dareus for a visit even though the defensive lineman isn't expected to be available when the team selects in the first round. Maiocco writes: "In his final two seasons at Alabama, Dareus recorded 20 tackles for loss and 11 sacks while starting all 25 games in which he appeared. He declared for the NFL draft following his junior season. Also, Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller is also scheduled to arrive in the Bay Area this evening and meet with the 49ers, the Sacramento Bee previously reported."

Also from Maiocco: The 49ers need to land an impact player in the first round. Maiocco writes: "If the 49ers select a defensive player -- cornerback or pass-rusher -- with the seventh overall pick, you can go ahead and write his name into the starting lineup. And that player would be expected to supply an immediate upgrade in production from a year ago. But if the 49ers take a quarterback and play him as a rookie, don't expect an improvement behind center."

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat sends Dareus to the 49ers at No. 7 in his mock draft.