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A quarterback such as Oklahoma's Landry Jones might be a fit for the 49ers in the middle rounds -- someone the team believes is undervalued with a high upside. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
With Alex Smith now gone to Kansas City, one thing seems likely:
The 49ers will use one of as many as 15 draft picks to take a quarterback at some point in April’s selection of college talent. With Smith gone, only Scott Tolzien remains as Colin Kaepernck’s backup and, though the 49ers are publicly high on him, he’s untested.
It’s possible the team could not only draft a quarterback but bring in a veteran free agent as well to give the roster depth and options going into mini-camp and summer training camp.
Taking a QB with their top two choices, at No. 31 and No. 34 overall, seems unlikely; there are other more pressing needs. But what college quarterbacks might be available lower in the draft?
Geno Smith is the top-ranked QB available and should be long gone by the time the Niners decide to dive in to the QB pool. But this isn’t a strong class for quarterbacks.
Among those who could still be around in the low second or third round are Mike Glennon of North Carolina State, Matt Barkley of USC, Tyler Wilson of Arkansas, E.J. Manuel of Florida State and Tyler Bray of Tennessee.
Quarterbacks that might be intriguing in lower rounds include Ryan Nassib of Syracuse, Zac Dysert of Miami of Ohio, Landry Jones of Oklahoma, Collin Klein of Kansas State, Matt Scott of Arizona, Jordan Rodgers of Vanderbilt (Aaron Rodgers' little brother), Logan Thomas of Virginia Tech and MarQueis Gray of Minnesota.
One quarterback who raised his stock at the Combine was Arizona's Scott. Another that might be flying under the radar is Oklahoma’s Jones. By many accounts, Jones ranks outside the top 10 available, and his stock dropped in 2012 when some believed he regressed after an outstanding 2011 season. Then, Jones had a mediocre performance in the Senior Bowl.
But since the end of the season, Jones has been working with a quarterback coach in Southern California who has had a terrific rate of success with other pro and college quarterbacks – George Whitfield, Jr. – and the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder believed he made a good impression at the Combine in Indianapolis the past week.
“I think I showed the things that I wanted to improve on,” Jones told the media after his Combine showing. “I shortened my motion and move around in the pocket a lot more than I have been.”
Plus, the Niners under GM Trent Baalke and head coach Jim Harbaugh have been astute in going after talent perhaps undervalued by others – Kaepernick and Tolzien, for instance – and Jones might fall into that category.
A new quarterback evaluation system by Aaron Schatz at Football Outsiders and analyst Dave Lewin that factors in a number of elements – including college games started, completion rate, body mass index, etc. – rates Jones the No. 1 quarterback in the draft. Last season the formula ranked Russell Wilson No. 1, ahead of Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck, which proved prescient.
Jones’ QB guru, Whitfield, told USA Today at the Combine that after working with Jones for seven weeks, he believes Jones is now a first-round talent comparable to the Atlanta Falcons’ Matt Ryan.
“He’s absolutely a first rounder, especially when you look at not only his class, but classes prior to this one,” Whitfield said. He went on to say that like Ryan, Jones used all four years of eligibility and is a student of the game.
“The Atlanta Falcons took a senior who played an awful lot of games at Boston College, and they hooked that wagon to him. Landry is a little bit bigger than Matt Ryan… (and) Landry is a master distributor.”
Do the 49ers see in Jones what Whitfield does? It’s impossible to say. But no doubt they have their focus on one of these QBs they believe is undervalued and can be taken in the mid rounds – after addressing more immediate needs on the defensive line, at wideout and perhaps the secondary.