SFI draft preview: Quarterback

Beginning today, SF Illustrated will analyze the 49ers' approach in this year's NFL Draft by position, beginning with the areas San Francisco is least likely to address in the 2002 lottery.

Gio Carmazzi has been seen flinging passes at 49ers headquarters in Santa Clara, and that's goes a long way toward illustrating why it's highly unlikely the team will spend much time considering quarterbacks when it comes time to make its nine selections in the April 20 draft.

Carmazzi will be the team's draft pick at quarterback this year. As everybody knows, Carmazzi actually was the Niners' third-round pick in 2000, when he was designated as the team's heir apparent to the starting position. But this spring and summer, he'll be battling for roster survival as he competes with Tim Rattay and former Arena League star Aaron Garcia for the two slots open at quarterback behind starter Jeff Garcia, a Pro Bowl selection each of the past two seasons.

"He's progressing (well) and moving along," Niners general manager Terry Donahue said of Carmazzi, who missed all of last season after undergoing surgery on his throwing shoulder. The Niners kept Carmazzi on the roster as a fourth quarterback during their rebuilding 6-10 season of 1999 after he was beaten out by Rattay for the No. 3 role behind Jeff Garcia and Rick Mirer.

But that won't happen this season, and Carmazzi will have to earn his way. A best-case scenario is that he'll display the kind of potential the Niners saw when they drafted him and challenge Rattay - who was drafted four rounds behind Carmazzi in 2000 - for the No. 2 job. A more likely development is that Carmazzi will be pushed for the No. 3 role by Aaron Garcia, who could be a nice fit for San Francisco's system after throwing for 104 touchdowns - that's no misprint - in the Arena League last year.

Rattay is the No. 2, and the Niners won't find anybody in this year's draft that could challenge him. The Niners would seriously consider grabbing a top prospect such as Oregon's Joey Harrington, but he won't last past the Cincinnati Bengals with the 10th pick. There is no other prospect in the draft worthy of San Francisco's No. 27 pick in the first round, and the Niners' other early picks are targeted for specific positions.

With Carmazzi and Aaron Garcia around, and the team determined to develop Rattay and give him extensive preseason playing time, there is no reason for the Niners to spend one of their several late-round picks on a project quarterback.

Jeff Garcia has tossed 1,065 of the 1,089 passes thrown by San Francisco quarterbacks in the past two seasons. The only other quarterback on the roster who has thrown an NFL pass is Rattay, who has thrown three (all completions, by the way). With Rattay and Carmazzi both needing the work this summer, the Niners have no need to add another rookie arm to the mix.

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