Comparing the NFC West: Niners lagging at QB

Even with young Sam Bradford headed for a bright future in St. Louis, the NFC West probably has the worst group of starting quarterbacks of any division in the NFL, and the backups fall into the same category. The 49ers and their shaky situation at quarterback fall right into place in this murky picture as we continue our position-by-position comparison breakdown of the NFC West.

Bradford is entering just his second season, but he already appears to be the class of the division at quarterback after a promising debut season that saw him earn NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

Arizona will have a huge upgrade from its suspect play at the position last year after trading for Kevin Kolb, one of the top impact newcomers in the NFC West at any position and a QB that could challenge Bradford as the division's best now that he's getting his first opportunity to be a full-time starter.

The QB king of the division for much of the past decade, Matt Hasselbeck, was allowed to walk away from the Seahawks this year as a free agent. Two veterans who've had mixed NFL results are vying to take his place.

The 49ers answer with Alex Smith and two rookies who have never taken a NFL snap, pretty much leaving it up to the inconsistent veteran to carry the team this year at the position, something he hasn't been very successful at in the past.

Here's the breakdown of the NFC West's quarterbacks:


49ers


Starter: Alex Smith
Backups: Colin Kaepernick, Scott Tolzien

Unit analysis: Neither Smith nor Kaepernick consistently looked good during the preseason and that was largely due to a lack of protection in passing situations. Coach Jim Harbaugh has stuck with Smith despite a fan base that's tired of him, and the new coach is hoping Smith can find both confidence and success in the West Coast system with the support of a new coaching staff behind him. Kaepernick needs a lot more coaching and polishing before he's capable of facing a NFL-caliber defense. Tolzien is an undrafted rookie free agent who was picked up off waivers Sunday after being released by the San Diego Chargers. A detailed analysis of the 49ers at the running back position can be found elsewhere on this site via this link.

NinersDigest rank in division: 4


Arizona Cardinals


Starter: Kevin Kolb
Backups: John Skelton, Rich Bartel

Unit analysis: The Cardinals were abysmal at the position last year when they ranked 31st in the NFL in passing offense. Gone is veteran Derek Anderson and his 52.6 passer rating along with Max Hall, who like Skelton got a few starts last year as a rookie, finishing with six interceptions to go with one TD pass. Skelton was the better performer of the two rookies last year and he's back this year to battle for the backup role behind Kolb, who provides a huge upgrade for the Cardinals at the position. Kolb looked sharp during the preseason despite learning a new offense. He gives the team mobility at the position, something it hasn't had in years. He needs to stay healthy, however, because Skelton and Bartel don't have much experience. They are in a tight battle for the backup job. Coaches love Bartel's intelligence and he's a bit older than Skelton.

NinersDigest rank in division: 2


St. Louis Rams


Starter: Sam Bradford
Backup: A.J. Feeley

Unit analysis:Bradford played every offensive snap last year as a rookie and is the unquestioned leader of the offense as he enters his second season. Bradford has asserted himself and, most important, he's been a quick study in new coordinator Josh McDaniels' offense. Bradford was the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year after completing 354 passes in 590 attempts for 3,512 yards and 18 touchdowns against 15 interceptions last year – one of the most prolific seasons by a rookie quarterback in NFL history. The Rams are looking for him to continue a career projectile in his second season and he appears to have everything needed to be a Pro Bowl quarterback. Feeley has also done a good job learning the offense, and will be a steady backup for Bradford even though he never took a snap last season. Feeley accepts his role and can provide a veteran sounding board for Bradford, but he hasn't thrown a regular-season pass since 2007.

NinersDigest rank in division: 1


Seattle Seahawks


Starter: Tarvaris Jackson
Backups: Charlie Whitehurst, Josh Portis

Unit analysis: The Seahawks are rebuilding if not starting over at the position after allowing Matt Hasselbeck to leave in free agency after his performance dipped again last year for the second consecutive season. Hasselbeck gave Seattle one of the NFC's best starting quarterbacks over the past decade, and it will be difficult for either Jackson or Whitehurst to match his consistency or production. Jackson gets the nod early as the starter, but if does not play well during the team's first five regular-season games, then Whitehurst could get the nod after Seattle's bye week in October. Whitehurst didn't do a lot to inspire confidence last year while completing 57 of 99 passes for 507 yards with two TD throws and three interceptions, but he did play well in the Week 17 victory over St. Louis that put the Seahawks into the playoffs as NFC West champions. Coach Pete Carroll is not looking for an explosive playmaker from the quarterback position, but just someone who can manage the game and not turn the ball over.

NinersDigest rank in division: 3


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