Harbaugh the key in drafting Niners' next QB

Let's be realistic here. Some time, at some point over the next three days – quite possibly around 6 o'clock PST tonight – the 49ers are going to select a quarterback in the NFL draft. And while that decision will be a collaborative effort among the men now running the team, the most important man in that decision will be the former quarterback now coaching the team, Jim Harbaugh.

Because for any person now associated with the 49ers – from scouts, to personnel types, to front-office management, to coaches and even down to the players on the roster themselves – Harbaugh best knows quarterbacks.

And since Harbaugh will be the man ultimately responsible for developing and preparing the next quarterback to take the 49ers to the playoffs – yes, 49ers fans, that will finally happen someday under Harbaugh's coachingship – Harbaugh has to be the man who gets the last word in the 49ers war room when San Francisco is on the clock and a quarterback is on the board that the team is seriously considering selecting.

Harbaugh has to be that man, because isn't that one of the biggest reasons he is here anyway? The truth is, the problems the 49ers have had at quarterback since Jeff Garcia was foolishly and unceremoniously dispatched after the 2003 season have generally been responsible for the big mess that has become this storied franchise over much of the past decade.

Quarterback – and we're not telling you anything you don't know here – is the most important individual position in all of team sports. And in the NFL, quarterbacks become even that much more important, because it is the world's very top level of skill, and there is such a fine line between winning and losing and completing that nine-yard out pattern on third-and-8.

You have to have a good one to win. The 49ers haven't even had a mediocre one since Garcia was passing his way to three consecutive Pro Bowl berths from 2000-2002.

This isn't meant to be the standard Alex Smith slam, but of course the bottom line is that it is. Harbaugh has said all the right things the past few months about welcoming Smith back, and general manager Trent Baalke said last week that "the olive branch has been extended" for Smith's return. But the truth is, as everyone must know, that is really just a fallback measure, particularly in this time of NFL uncertainty with the lockout and all.

The 49ers aren't going to go forward with Alex Smith at quarterback. That is a fact. Smith's Last Chance Saloon definitely was last season, and unfortunately he spilled the drink all over himself. Again.

Which means the 49ers need to find their next quarterback of the future. And this draft could be the place to find him.

And Harbaugh is the guy the 49ers have to trust to guide them to the right one.

It's not just that he played 15 years as a quarterback in the NFL, an everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-position course if there ever was one. It's not just that he has displayed a clear gift for building quarterbacks as a coach, developing current Tampa Bay QB Josh Johnson and Stanford All-American Andrew Luck, last year's Heisman Trophy runner-up, in his seven seasons as a college head coach.

OK, wait... It is because of those reasons, to mention a few, that Harbaugh should be listened to when a QB decision is made by the 49ers during this draft. After all, just listen to Harbaugh talking about quarterbacks during the 49ers' Pro Day for college prospects last week.

When asked what he brings to the table when looking for quarterbacks in this draft or elsewhere, such as via trade or free agency, Harbaugh replied: "Well, a lot of things go into it. We don't have two hours to talk about it now. Guys that can win, guys that can figure things out, guys that really have the DNA to be quarterbacks."

The DNA to be quarterbacks. Let that brilliant summation roll around in the brain wave for a while. Then Harbaugh went on.

"There's things to playing the quarterback position," he said. "It's like a DNA of quarterbacks. They have it or they don't. Sometimes the only way you find that out is their ability to figure it out, figure things out. Definitely, going from the college to the pro game is something they have to figure out. You look for the indicators that they can do that."

And nobody in the building at 4949 Centennial Boulevard knows those indicators better than Harbaugh.

At least Baalke seems to realize this as he heads into his first draft as the team's general manager. Baalke is showing great promise as a personnel evaluator. But when it comes to quarterbacks, he'll certainly take into account the evaluation of his head coach, a man he will now work hand-in-hand with to right the franchise.

"He gives a lot of insight," Baalke said. "He's played it, he's proven he's able to develop it and I trust him. I trust him because he's done the work, he's played the position, he's developed quarterbacks, he understands the game. There's a lot of reasons to put faith in his ability to evaluate that position. With Jim, he's got a lot of intuition about him when he looks at the quarterback position. I like to just listen to what he says and why he likes a particular trait in a quarterback."

And that's why the 49ers should listen to Harbaugh when it comes time to draft a quarterback this week, whether it be a top-flight prospect in the first round or a more developmental prospect in the rounds after that.

If the Niners know what's good for them, they certainly will.

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