One of our favorite things about the NFL draft is that it doesn't take place until April. Think about it. That leaves two full months for fun and speculation, guesswork and analysis, second guessing and dart-throwing.
Will the San Francisco 49ers pick a quarterback with the seventh pick in the first round? A cornerback? Or maybe an outside linebacker, someone who can pressure the passer and help out the secondary?
Any of those are possibilities in the first round. Since quarterback, cornerback and OLB are the 49ers' primary early round needs, let's take a look at which players might be available at each position when they draft. Today, we'll look at the quarterback position.
Unfortunately for the Niners, there's no one named Sam Bradford, Matthew Stafford or even Andrew Luck who's draft eligible this year. That's why, although Scout.com's first mock draft has them picking Missouri's Blaine Gabbert with the No. 7 pick, most scouts don't believe he's a good fit for coach Jim Harbaugh's plan to employ the West Coast offense.
That doesn't mean they won't select Gabbert. They might. He's talented, big (6-5, 235), has a strong arm and knows how to use his feet. But if the Niners can trade for an established quarterback (Philadelphia Eagles' Kevin Kolb, Cincinnati Bengals' Carson Palmer) or sign one in free agency (Seattle Seahawks' Matt Hasselbeck), they may wait on a QB until the second round, when Harbaugh can find someone to groom for the future.
If they don't? Let's consider a couple of possibilities.
Gabbert: Given his ability and upside, it's likely Gabbert (or perhaps Cam Newton of Auburn) will be the first quarterback off the board. His arm is strong enough to get the ball downfield, but his strength appears to be in the intermediate game. He also seems comfortable when he's flushed outside the pocket, and he can get the ball to receivers outside the numbers. But he's more of a project and will take time to develop.
Christian Ponder, Florida State: If the Niners wait until the second round, it's a good bet Ponder (6-3, 227) will be their choice. Scouts believe he can be a good fit for Harbaugh's scheme because he's intelligent, gets the ball out quickly, has a compact release and has good anticipation and accuracy. Among his drawbacks is an ability to get through his progressions and find secondary targets.
Final impression: The 49ers will probably wait until the second round to grab a quarterback. If they do, Ponder might be the choice.