Most draftniks agree there are eight quarterbacks in the upcoming draft who at least warrant consideration in the first two rounds of the draft. Some teams may have more than eight; more likely have fewer than eight. And, of course, the order in which the eight are listed varies from team to team. The question for 49ers fans is, in which order does Jim Harbaugh have the 2010 quarterback class? My guess:
1. Blaine Gabbert , Missouri. Yahoo's Jason Cole recently spoke to an anonymous AFC personnel director who said of Gabbert: "Are you really going to build the future of your franchise around that guy? To me, it feels like settling." Indeed, Gabbert's allure is more about projection than performances. He was 18-8 as starter the past two seasons and last year had a ho hum 16-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio. That's the worst ratio of any of the top candidates and lags behind most quarterbacks in this draft class. Lightly regarded Tyrod Taylor out of Virginia Tech, for instance, had a 24-5 ratio in 2010. Gabbert is a junior who played in a spread offense, wore No. 11 and is represented by Tom Condon. That is, he won't make 49ers fans forget about Alex Smith. Still, Jim Harbaugh believes he will be able to mold the 49ers' next quarterback, and Gabbert would give him plenty of material - 6-5, 235 lbs., athletic, strong arm, quick release - with which to work.
2. Cam Newton , Auburn. If NFL coaches say anything at all about draft prospects in the month of March, it's usually as dry as the McNeil-Lehrer News Hour. (Yes, I watch it). So when Harbaugh gushed about Newton's athleticism - "That's plutonium-grade raw material, you know? I haven't seen upside like with this guy in probably the last 10 years," he said - eyebrows flickered. That Harbaugh would offer up such a juicy quote about one of the top quarterbacks only can mean he's not interested, right? Or maybe he's trying to make everyone think he's not interested. Ah, that's what makes the run up to the draft so fun and so vexing. Newton has an Adonis-like body, completed 66.1 percent of his passes last season and threw 30 touchdown passes against just seven interceptions. If you looked at Harbaugh's quarterback criteria, you might say Newton hits every one. Still, it's notable that Newton has pre-draft visits with every Top 10 team in need of a quarterback except the 49ers. Yes, Harbaugh met with Newton at the scouting combine. But it seems to me if that if you're going to make someone the face of your franchise, you'd want to bring him into team headquarters first.
3. Christian Ponder , Florida State. You have to wonder if we'd be talking about Ponder as a potential Top 10 pick if he had remained healthy his senior season. After completing an impressive 68.8 percent of his passes as junior, that mark dipped to 61.5 percent as a senior as Ponder battled an array of ailments to his throwing arm. He and Jake Locker are the only top quarterback prospects whose completion percentage dropped from 2009 to 2010. Ponder, who is healthy again, has the athleticism that Harbaugh prefers having run a 4.63-second 40 at the combine to go along with a 34-inch vertical leap. And 49ers fans might be interested to know that he has big hands - 10 ¼ inches to be exact.
4. Colin Kaepernick, Nevada. Draft-eligible quarterbacks have been taking it on the chin over the last week, but Kaepernick appears to be riding above it all. The Nevada quarterback has parlayed an impressive Senior Bowl into a series of workouts and visits, and there have been a few projections in which he is taken in the first round. Kaepernick has most of the attributes teams want to see in a potential starting quarterback - he's tall, strong-armed, athletic, and he's a leader who will be one of the hardest workers in the locker room. What he lacks is a quick release and any experience in a pro-style offense. In typical years, most teams only would use a first- (or high second-) round pick on a quarterback if they thought he could be an immediate starter. This, of course, is not a typical year, and it will be interesting to see if a team reaches into the first round for a raw but intriguing prospect like Kaepernick.
5. Andy Dalton, TCU. Dalton is a lot like Kaepernick in that general mangers won't lose sleep that he'll be a JaMarcus Russell-like embarrassment to their club. He's a gym rat and a proven leader who completed 66.1 percent of his passes last season and threw 27 touchdowns to only six interceptions. Like Kaepernick, he mostly operated out of the shotgun in college, and teams will have to project how well he'll be able to drop back and read pro defenses. He has a cleaner release than Kaepernick, but does not have Kaepernick's arm strength or his running ability. Dalton may have a higher floor than Kaepernick, but the Nevada quarterback has the higher ceiling. My sense is that Harbaugh, who is in his first year as head coach, values ceiling over floor.
6. Jake Locker, Washington. The 49ers currently do not have a visit set up with Locker nor did they send any of their top evaluators to his pro day last week. Perhaps it's because Harbaugh and his top lieutenants already are quite familiar with Locker having faced him in each of the past four years. Locker's combined stat line over that span: a 51 percent completion rate, three losses, five interceptions and one touchdown. Locker could be drafted in the first round based on potential and leadership. But the best fit would be an Aaron Rodgers-like situation - landing with a club that already has an established starter Locker could apprentice behind.
7. Ricky Stanzi, Iowa. Of all the top quarterbacks, Stanzi operated out of the most pro-like offense. He was an excellent game manager for the Hawkeyes the last two seasons. In 2010, he completed 64.1 percent of his passes against solid competition and, with a quick release, threw 25 touchdowns against six interceptions. But Stanzi also is statuesque in the pocket and appears to lack the athletic skills Harbaugh values so highly. "The ability to make people miss as a quarterback is critical," Harbaugh said last month of attributes he cherishes in quarterbacks. "Avoid. Being able to go with your legs." Stanzi also did not stand out at either the Senior Bowl or the combine.
8. Ryan Mallett, Arkansas. Mallett threw for more passing yards last year than any of the top quarterbacks and he might have the best combination of arm strength, touch and accuracy. However, he also may be the least athletic of all the top quarterbacks and he is facing a barrage of questions about his character. The question for the 49ers: At what point in the draft do Mallett's skills outweigh his question marks? The 49ers are flying Mallett into town later this month so they make that determination
-- Matt Barrows