“No threat to pick up yards with his feet.”
That’s the draft report for Matt Barkley when he was coming out of USC in 2013, but it could have been written of most of the four quarterbacks on the 49ers’ roster. Consider these college rushing totals:
▪ Brian Hoyer: minus-205 yards
▪ Barkley: minus-113
▪ C.J. Beathard: 429 (including minus-13 as a senior)
▪ Nick Mullens: minus-210
Now compare those figures with those of Colin Kaepernick, who ran for 4,361 yards at Nevada and became the first player in Division I FBS history to throw for more than 10,000 yards and rush for more than 4,000 yards.
In fact, the three quarterbacks who finished the 2016 season with San Francisco – Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder were the others – were either good or great college runners. That was no coincidence. Former coach Chip Kelly’s offense usually has worked best behind a quarterback who was a threat to run.
That’s not to say Kelly’s replacement, Kyle Shanahan, has no interest in athletic quarterbacks.
The 49ers’ highest-rated passer in the recent draft was North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, who took nearly 98 percent of his snaps from the shotgun last season and who ran the ball 93 times.
Beathard, the team’s third-round pick out of Iowa, had 100 rushing attempts as a junior in 2015 and scored six rushing touchdowns that season.
But based on the quarterbacks on his 49ers roster – and those who could be on his 2018 team – Shanahan definitely has a “type.” He obviously prefers passers who played in a pro-style offense, who took snaps from center, who can run a huddle and who know how to operate inside a pocket.
“One thing that helps is being able to see guys play the way you’re going to ask them to play,” Shanahan said after drafting Beathard. “I think that helps with being at Iowa, having watched the system that he’s in. It’s easier to see.”
Kirk Cousins, whom Shanahan helped draft in Washington in 2012, also fits this profile. Barring a long-term commitment from Washington, Cousins (minus-127 yards rushing in college) is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in March.
Mullens, an undrafted rookie, is the only exception to the type among the 49ers’ current quarterbacks in that he mostly operated out of the shotgun at Southern Mississippi. But he wasn’t much of a runner and certainly didn’t rely on his legs to get him out of trouble. That is, he kept his eyes downfield.
What about next year’s draft?
It’s shaping up to be a good year for quarterbacks, and there are perhaps five who could go in the first round.
However, one of those quarterbacks, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, is almost as prolific a runner as Kaepernick was in college. Another, Oklahoma’s Mason Rudolph, runs a no-huddle, spread-style system. A third, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, operates a pro-style system but one that uses a lot of shotgun snaps and run-pass options.
Which leaves two Pac-12 quarterbacks: UCLA’s Josh Rosen and USC’s Sam Darnold. Rosen will have his third offensive coordinator in as many seasons, Jedd Fisch, who was most recently worked with Jim Harbaugh and his pro-style offense at Michigan.
Darnold, meanwhile, took over a pro-style offense last season but one that gradually added more spread concepts to take advantage of Darnold’s athleticism.
Darnold, a redshirt freshman last season, also seems to have an element of fearlessness that has been another theme among Shanahan’s quarterbacks.