The quarterback draft class of 2011 is apparently ready for their reunion in San Francisco.
The top pick in 2011, QB Cam Newton, battled the No. 2 overall pick, LB Von Miller in Super Bowl 50 in February, with the second pick finishing in the top spot this time around with the Denver Broncos’ Super Bowl win.
However, a little further down the draft selections in 2011 were three quarterbacks that are getting back together in San Francisco as members of the 49ers after mostly unsuccessful careers to this point. After signing Christian Ponder, the No. 12 pick by the Minnesota Vikings in 2011, to a contract on Tuesday, the 49ers now have three of the top six quarterbacks drafted that year. Ponder joins Colin Kaepernick, a starter for much of his time the 49ers, who selected him 36th overall in 2011, and Blaine Gabbert, the 10th pick overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars that year.
Kaepernick was the last of the top six quarterbacks selected, with Jake Locker (now retired) and Andy Dalton, a successful regular-season quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals, joining Newton and the 49ers’ three quarterbacks.
It is a strange twist of 2011 draft fate after most draft analysts figured Gabbert and Ponder were stretches as first-round picks back then and proved to be right.
After three seasons in Jacksonville and losing the starting job in 2013, the 49ers signed Gabbert in 2014. He only played one game then, but he started eight games last year when Kaepernick fell out of favor. But after Thad Lewis was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday, Ponder joined the San Francisco mix. That gives the 49ers three of the top six quarterbacks selected in 2011, with none of them fully capitalizing on their opportunities to start, either with their original teams or, in Kaepernick’s case, the 49ers.
The 49ers’ search for a true, viable starter is underscored by their depth chart, which lists both Gabbert and Kaepernick on the first level of their depth chart with a slash separating them. Kaepernick, however, was held out of the preseason opener with tightness in his throwing shoulder and has practiced in more than a week.
Last year, Gabbert had the highest completion percentage of his career (63.1), but threw only 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions in his eight starts with San Francisco.
Kaepernick, meanwhile, is the only one of the three to remain with the team that drafted him, although his position with the team beyond 2016 is far from solid. He is signed through 2020, but it would cost the 49ers just over $7 million to release him after this season. He was the full-time starter from 2012-2014, but he never completed better than 63 percent of his passes. His best season was 2013, when he threw 21 touchdowns and eight interceptions and ran for four more.
Last year, however, Kaepernick completed less than 60 percent of his passes, throwing six touchdowns and five interceptions in eight starts and ran for only one touchdown, opening the door for Gabbert. When it comes to running quarterbacks, Kaepernick is one of the most dangerous, but his passing game hasn’t developed as hoped.
Ponder is also athletic, but his uneasiness in the pocket led the Vikings to draft Teddy Bridgewater in 2014 as Ponder’s replacement. Last year, Ponder was in training camp with the Oakland Raiders but didn’t make their 53-man roster. He was with the Broncos for two games but released in December.
The 49ers’ signing of Ponder underscores two points: the old NFL axiom that if you have two starters at quarterback you don’t really have one; and the analysts were right about the first-round draft-pick reaches made in 2011 by the Vikings and Jaguars with Ponder and Gabbert, respectively.
For now, three of the top six quarterbacks drafted in 2011 are reunited, but it seems unlikely it will feel so good in San Francisco.