Poised to have a top-three pick in the draft for the second straight season, the San Francisco 49ers decided to ignore next year’s class of quarterback prospects.
By acquiring Jimmy Garoppolo in exchange for a second-round pick in the 2018 NFL draft, the 49ers made it clear they didn’t like what the draft has to offer.
Based on how the top quarterback prospects have performed this season, they can’t be blamed. In what was supposed to be a great class of quarterbacks, the passers in the 2018 have largely disappointed this season.
That begins with Sam Darnold of Southern California. A potential first overall pick, the redshirt sophomore can't stop turning the ball over. On the season he already has 10 interceptions after throwing nine all of last season. Darnold has started less than 20 games for the Trojans and may be better served with another season at USC. But as almost a guaranteed top-10 pick, that's probably unlikely.
At nearby rival UCLA, Josh Rosen has been less than perfect this season. Rosen is currently the draft’s top quarterback, but he faces some questions about his injury past and maturity.
The maturity question also hangs over Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, who was arrested in the offseason on charges of public intoxication, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. Mayfield is dynamic on the field, throwing for 23 touchdowns and just three interceptions while completing 72.5 percent of his passes this season. He also has a big fan in former NFL general manager Scot McCloughan. On a radio show, he recently compared Mayfield to a shorter Brett Favre.
“Tough guy. Oh yeah, he can throw it,” McCloughan said. “And he’s very confident and he’s not afraid whatsoever, whatsoever. He’s a battler. And I know saying Brett Favre is a big name and I was around him for a while, but he’s … this guy has talent.”
Wyoming's Josh Allen came into the season as a much-hyped prospect largely because his parallels to Carson Wentz are so obvious. But he’s struggled throughout the season, and his completion percentage continues to hover at a less-than-ideal 56 percent.
Lamar Jackson of Louisville remains a work in progress as a pocket passer, but he’s taken strides this season. Mason Rudolph will face questions about the Oklahoma State offense and its limited playbook. Luke Falk of Washington State hasn’t progressed as much as expected yet. Those were the known names coming into the season. Players like Ryan Finley of North Carolina State, Nick Fitzgerald of Mississippi State, and Will Grier of West Virginia have all emerged this season, but they currently don’t carry a high first-round grade.
Unless things start to change with the 2018 NFL draft quarterbacks, it looks like the 49ers smartly found their quarterback of the future via trade. San Francisco, though, is just one piece of the quarterback draft puzzle.
The ripple effect
The list of teams that could draft a quarterback in 2018 is long, but now it’s one shorter without San Francisco. The Browns, Cardinals, Chargers, Giants, and Jets should all take quarterbacks early in the 2018 draft. After starting journeyman Brian Hoyer six games and rookie third-round pick C.J. Beathard in two, the 49ers were obviously on that list. (And by the way, there is no bigger loser in this trade than Beathard, whose starting potential took a huge blow.)
But with the 49ers out of the quarterback derby, teams like the Chargers, Giants, and Jets — all of whom could be picking in the top 10 — could get their hands on a better player. This could mean a team like Arizona could go after the position in the first round instead of the second. Don’t forget, there was some thought the Cardinals would’ve picked Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson this year had they not been picked directly in front of Arizona at No. 13.
There’s another big wrench in the whole thing. Washington can no longer put the franchise tag on Kirk Cousins, and he could demand a big contract in free agency. That could remove one of the teams in need of a rookie but also bring Washington into the mix. Washington is one of six teams sitting at 3-4, so it could land a quarterback high if need be.
How the trade impacts San Francisco’s rebuild
In terms of draft capital, the 49ers already had an extra second-round pick. They acquired it from the New Orleans Saints in exchange for a third-round pick in this year’s draft. Although the pick from New Orleans is currently projected to be in the back half of the round, a pick is a pick.
The 49ers could also move off their first-round selection to get more picks back. Three drafts since 2012 have seen quarterbacks be the first and second overall pick. If the 49ers finish with the No. 2 pick, they could trade it to a team hungry for a quarterback. While there may not appear to be value in taking the second-best quarterback at No. 2, that could easily change by April. Trading the pick would probably give the 49ers more in return than they gave up for Garoppolo.
Although the 49ers don’t have a fifth-round pick next year, they already have extra picks in the third, fourth, and seventh rounds. The 49ers may be in the midst of a rebuild, but with a potential franchise quarterback and a load of picks, the turnaround may not take long.