As a former NFL quarterback, the son of a football coach and a successful college and NFL coach, Jim Harbaugh knows something about quarterbacks and how to judge them.
So as the 49ers prepare for the NFL Draft in early May, it appears he’ll be actively involved in scouting available quarterbacks, with the chance the 49ers may take one in the mid to late rounds to groom as a backup for starter Colin Kaepernick.
Harbaugh, in fact, scouted and spent time with Kaepernick before the 2011 draft, and that turned out to be the deciding factor in the team taking him with a second-round pick.
Now, reports out of Chicago indicate Harbaugh spent time Tuesday with Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo at a private workout at Northwestern with Harbaugh and Texans coach Jim O’Brien.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Garoppolo – who’s been projected as a second-tier quarterback prospect – threw for both Harbaugh and O’Brien and answered questions from both.
“It was awesome,” Garoppolo told the Tribune. “And I slung it around a little bit. It’s a job interview and I had fun with it. Those guys have so much knowledge for quarterbacks and I was just trying to steal a little bit of it.”
According to Bill Williamson of ESPN.com who covers the 49ers, Garoppolo is considered a possible second-round pick, and San Francisco has the 56th and 61st overall picks, both in the second round.
“I could see them biting, although I think it’s more likely the 49ers would be apt to take a quarterback in the third or fourth rounds,” wrote Williamson.
CBS Sports’ draft board has Garoppolo pegged as the 59th best player in the draft and the No. 5 quarterback.
Though he played for lower-level Eastern Illinois, the 6-foot-2, 226-pounder but up big numbers in college, and has been compared to another former Eastern Illinois star, Tony Romo. Garoppolo moves well and is said to have a stronger-than-average arm.
With plenty of time still to go before the draft in early May, the one-on-one showcase might not be the last Harbaugh attends. The 49ers currently have McLeod Bethel-Thompson as their No. 2 quarterback, with veteran Colt McCoy a free agent, so the 49ers are likely to draft a QB with one of their dozen picks.
Williamson suggests several quarterbacks – below the Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles and David Carr level – might be 49ers’ targets (aside from Garoppolo), including: Tajh Boyd of Clemson, David Fales of San Jose State, A.J. McCarron of Alabama, Aaron Murray of Georgia and Logan Thomas of Virginia Tech.
In addition, LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, who was considered a strong prospect before being injured this past season, is ranked among quarterbacks expected to be taken in the third to fourth rounds, and Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith, who’s coming out after his junior season, is projected to be a fourth- to sixth-round pick.
Smith, who didn’t receive an invitation to the recent NFL Combine, is intriguing. He’s 6-foot-2 and 211 pounds and has been described by some as a “poor man’s Manziel” because of his ability to freelance on the run.
Smith, who wasn’t highly recruited out of high school, said he’s using the latest snub as further motivation. He’s been described by some observers as an athlete who plays as if there's a chip on his shoulder. He plays with an edge.
“It doesn’t matter if every single person in the entire world says you can’t do something,” he told the Casper Star-Tribune recently. “If you believe you’re going to do it and you work for it, you can.”
Which sounds, of course, a little like the 49ers’ head coach. As he scouts second-tier quarterback prospects over the next several weeks, no doubt Harbaugh will be looking as much at attitude and work ethic as arm strength and agility.